Effects of storms, changing marshes and a mega restoration project are all part of Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge near Milton, DE. Numerous storms, including Hurricane Sandy, caused salt water to breach the dune barriers and enter the fresh water impoundments killing vegetation and changing the landscape. Recognizing the need for change one of the largest ever tidal marsh restoration projects in the Eastern United States has just been completed at Prime Hook. Detailed information on this project is available on the Prime Hook Wildlife Refuge web page.
We began paddling Prime Hook in 2014 . The pairs of photos below are witness to the dramatic change in the landscape as the area transitioned from a freshwater impoundment to a salt water marsh.
While there are several options for accessing Prime Hook Creek we chose Foord’s Boat Ramp just off the entrance road about 1/2 mile before the Refuge Visitor Center. Arriving there in early August 2017 one could see the dramatic scenery change from our photos of 2014. We paddled Prime Hook in 2015 and 2016, but the impact of the change was most obvious in the summer of 2017.
Leaving the put in we turned left to paddle up Prime Hook Creek. With more trees falling and tall marsh grasses dying off the scene is becoming much more open. Within a few years this area will be a typical salt water marsh.
The Rose Marrow, a form of hibiscus, bloomed in pink and white on both banks on this trip in early August. Butterflies in large numbers were feeding on Joe-Pye Weed and the Rose Marrow resulting in a beautiful scene.
Osprey sat watching us from many trees. Every osprey appeared to be carrying a fish and as usual they did not appreciate us getting close. Several Great Blue Heron flew away as we approached. Small song birds were in abundance throughout the marsh, often flying in large flocks. Twice a loud splash and noise in the brush indicated the possible presence of a River Otter. In the past otters on the bank, and an otter in a den, have been spotted while paddling the creek.
Approximately 1.6 miles from Foord’s Landing the scenery begins to dramatically change. By the 2 mile mark one reaches an area of banks lined by hardwood forests. While still swampy on one shore the other shore resembles a freshwater stream. Several large ponds open up, and one can spend a considerable amount of time investigating these turtle filled areas. There are very few places to put ashore. Poison Ivy and Sumac grow rampant along the bank. One can continue upstream to Brumbley Family Park on Waples Mill Pond. This alternate put in spot is located at the intersection of Rt. 5 and Rt. 1. A trail map from Prime Hook Wildlife Refuge provides detailed information. From Foord’s Landing Waples Mill Pond is approximately 5 miles upstream.
On this trip, after returning to Foord’s Landing, we chose to paddle the opposite direction towards more open water and the Refuge Office put in. In the past this area was closed due to storm damage. From September 15-March 1st it’s always closed for hunting. Within 1/2 mile one begins to enter more open water and shore birds become more abundant. On our next trip we intend to explore this area more thoroughly.
GPS Topo Map – Put-In Ramp at Waymark 122
Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge https://www.fws.gov/refuge/prime_hook/
Put In: Foord Landing – no services, restrooms are located at Visitor Center
Food & Gas available in Milton, DE.
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