June 11, 2020
By: William Koth, Interpretive Programs Manager at Trap Pond State Park
From the 1940s to present-day, local residents, as well as long-distance vacationers and visitors, have taken advantage of the recreational activities and relaxation to be found surrounding Trap Pond State Park. Considered a hidden jewel by many, the area surrounds a millpond that was created in the 1700s to harvest Baldcypress trees from the nearby forests. Trap Pond State Park is home to the northernmost stand of Baldcypress trees on the east coast and provides a place for both people and animals to take advantage of a unique ecosystem.
The first official recreational use of Trap Pond began in 1941 when it was opened as a federal recreation area under the management of the United States Soil and Water Conservation service. Prior to this, the Civilian Conservation Corps worked on and around the pond in the midst of the Great Depression, preparing the area for enjoyment by the public. In 1951 the land was transferred to the Delaware State Parks Commission (currently the Delaware Division of Parks and Recreation) to become Delaware’s first state park.
Since becoming a state park, Trap Pond has focused on education with teachers and park naturalists taking advantage of the breathtaking landscape to run outdoor education programs. However, up until the fall of 2010, there had not been a park building dedicated specifically to environmental education. Thanks to involved community members, dedicated park staff, and a grant from the National Park Service, we now have just that, a facility that connects folks to the natural and cultural history of the area, while providing ample space for naturalist-led educational programs, community meetings, and social get-togethers.
The first steps to an official nature center began back in 1993 when park staff and local volunteers converted an old concessionary area to a makeshift display room with taxidermy animals, temporary fish tanks, and old photographs of the park. As a contact area for the public and a starting point for park programs, it served its role well. However, as an environmental education center, it was poorly lacking. Space was an issue with no room to run actual educational programs with groups larger than 5 or 6 people. While the staff designed exhibits that conveyed environmental and cultural messages, the limitation of space and professional expertise greatly limited the impact of the environmental and cultural messages.
Park staff started looking for grants to promote Trap Pond’s connection to the Chesapeake Bay. They worked with the National Park Service’s Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network, a partnership of places that have a connection to the Chesapeake Bay. In 2007, Trap Pond State Park became the first site in Delaware to become an official gateways site. This provided Trap Pond with the opportunity to apply for grants for professionally produced educational exhibits.
During this same time period, the community and the Division of Parks and Recreation began planning for a new water park facility at Trap Pond. With the closing of the swimming area in 1999, the public was looking for a family-friendly way to cool off during the hot summer months. Unfortunately, the funding fell through after initial planning and the project had to be put on the back burner for future years. While disappointing to the park staff and community, it became a great stroke of luck for our dedicated nature center. Wanting to see at least a portion of the funds still going to the park, community members, and Delaware Senator Venables (District 21), pushed for a portion of the funds to go to the nature center project.
With the state funds and the Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network Grants, it was determined that we could do more than basic renovations and professionally designed exhibits. It became possible to plan an entirely new nature center that would have space and educational exhibits worthy of the majesty of the surrounding park, a building that could serve as a focal point of the park and the community.
Planning began in 2007 with a cooperative effort between the national park service, state park employees, and community members from the Trap Pond Partners. Gregory Kindig, state architect, worked closely with the parks exhibit committee, the Trap Pond Partners, and parks staff, to make sure that all uses of the building would be considered.
Construction began in 2009 with the demolition of the old bathhouse and concession area. For nearly two years the park staff and community watched in anticipation as the new building slowly but surely emerged. On October 27th, 2010 the Baldcypress Nature Center had its grand opening and was ready for the public.
The new nature center featured a large exhibit area showcasing the natural and cultural history of the Trap Pond area. Water and our connection to the Chesapeake is a central theme. The exhibits include an 18’ replica baldcypress tree, 500-gallon floor aquarium, and waterfall feature showcasing the fish species found at Trap Pond, a virtual pontoon tour of the pond, and numerous other areas to discover the nature and the history of the park.
The large multi-purpose room, which has become affectionately known as the pond view room, provides space for environmental education programs, community meetings, and social celebrations (contact the nature center for rental information). The large windows facing the pond provide an excellent place for visitors to view wildlife on the pond, and spotting scopes are provided for the public. Attached to the Pond View room are two large outdoor patios that provide an outdoor, airy feel to the room and offer a venue for future outdoor programs and concerts.
The building is designed to reflect the rustic nature of the park and Civilian Conservation Corps influence. Cypress shingles protect the building on the exterior, while wooden exposed beams on the interior bring in a sense of the forest. Staff offices, a kitchen for public events, and restroom facilities round out the building for many uses.
The Division of Parks and Recreation encourages folks to come out and see all that is offered by both the park and the baldcypress nature center.