Wicomico County is characterized primarily by undeveloped forest, agricultural, and wetland areas. It also has a unique blend of urban and rural environments. Because of its strategic location in the center of the Delmarva Peninsula and at the intersection of two major highways, Rt. 13 and Rt. 50, it will likely maintain its current status as a regional center of economic activity. In 1998, the county had an estimated population of 79,367 and is projected to reach 88,520 by 2010.
The county covers approximately 241,440 land acres. Seventy-eight percent (78%) or 188,323 acres are zoned agricultural. Except for the Salisbury metropolitan region and areas dominated by forests, agricultural land is located throughout the county. Approximately 46% of the county’s land area is in forests and about 38% is in agricultural use. Developed portions of the county (residential and non-residential) constitute only 10% or about 24,000 acres of the total land area. While there is relatively little publicly owned land in the county, much of the land is protected by the critical area and tidal wetland regulations.
The 1998 Wicomico County Comprehensive Plan supports the development of greenways and trails by providing opportunities for alternative transportation, environmental protection, heritage and eco-tourism, and open space and recreation. One of the strategies identified in the transportation element of the plan is to involve the Planning Commission in the implementation of a county-wide greenways development program. The plan recommends that the county prepare and adopt an official greenways map which includes existing and planned greenways. The plan further suggests that the zoning and subdivision ordinances be revised to contain language allowing the Planning Commission to require a developer to provide for a public easement whenever a development includes portions of a designated greenways. The plan also advocates incentive zoning as an alternative to requiring dedication of greenways in the development process.
The 1998 Land Preservation and Recreation Plan (LPRP) lists the benefits of greenways and encourages the county to embark on a greenways initiative with the goal of gradually establishing a countywide network. The LPRP also provides nine greenways planning principles to help guide the planning and design of a network in the county. One of the most significant recommendations of the greenways section is the formation of the Wicomico County Greenways Commission. The Greenways Commission was formed and is working in concert with the Planning Commission to develop a greenways map for use in the greenways designation process.
1) Lower Wicomico River Greenways
The Wicomico River Greenways is an existing wildlife corridor along the Wicomico River. Tidal wetlands surround much of the river, although a large stretch (White Haven to Salisbury) has been heavily developed in past years. The river still serves as a major waterfowl corridor, and nearly 3,000 acres of land are protected at Pemberton Historical Park at the eastern end and by Ellis Bay Wildlife Management Area at the southwest end of the corridor.
1a) Ellis Bay Water Trail
The Ellis Bay Water Trail is a potential water trail route through the Ellis Bay Wildlife Management Area. Ellis Bay is 3,000 acres of mostly marsh and forested wetland. Access sites are currently being considered by the county greenways board. Paddlers can access and explore the Wicomico River, Monie Bay, and Tangier Sound.
2) Nanticoke River Greenways
The Nanticoke River Greenways is a partially established stream valley greenways. The river was studied by the Maryland Scenic and Wild Rivers Program and was found to possess nationally significant natural, recreational, and cultural values. Several thousand acres are protected in Wicomico and Dorchester counties by the Nanticoke River and Fishing Bay wildlife management areas. Significant acreage is also protected by several natural heritage sites along the river in both Dorchester and Wicomico counties.
Much of the land along the river corridor is undeveloped and privately owned. Most of the surrounding land is either marshland, wooded swamp or upland forest. As such, this greenways corridor is ideal for wildlife. Bass fishing, boating, and canoeing are activities currently enjoyed on the river. Portions of private land are protected by non-profit organizations such as The Nature Conservancy and the Boy Scouts of America. The Nature Conservancy is protecting a core area of the Nanticoke River at its confluence with the Marshyhope River, as well as other areas along the river in Maryland and Delaware.
2a) Nanticoke River Water Trail
The Nanticoke River Water Trail is a potential system of water trails along the Nanticoke River and its tributaries in western Wicomico County. The Nanticoke River serves as the spine of the system. Other potential water trail routes in the system include Barren Creek, Rewastico Creek, Quantico Creek, and Qetipquin Creek. The Nanticoke River Water Trail could eventually tie into the routes of other water trails originating in Dorchester County including Marshyhope Creek and Fishing Bay.
3) Nassawango Creek Preserve
The Nassawango Creek Preserve is a partially established greenways along the Nassawango Creek. The Nature Conservancy owns about 3,636 acres along the Nassawango in Wicomico and Worcester counties. In Wicomico County, the Wicomico State Forest provides additional preserved land along the creek. This corridor serves environmental protection purposes by providing habitat for plants and animals and also protects water quality in the creek, which is home to some of the northernmost bald cypress forests in the country. The preserve also harbors at least 14 species of orchids and more than 14 species of warblers, including the striking prothonotary, which raise their young in the dense swamp. Seaside alder (Alnus maritima), although abundant locally, is rare nationally.
An on-site visitor center is now open and will soon house permanent exhibits highlighting Nassawango Creek’s natural significance. The preserve’s two easy hiking trails, the Paul Leifer and Nassawango Joe trails, traverse upland woods, bald cypress swamps, and a canal dug in the 1800’s. Nassawango Creek also can be experienced via canoe from a put-in at Red House Road.
4) Pocomoke River Regional Greenways
The Pocomoke River Regional Greenways is a potential multi-county greenways along the Pocomoke Scenic River in Wicomico, Worcester, and Somerset counties. Although the land along this corridor in Wicomico County is privately owned, it is protected by critical area regulation and local zoning. Paths for a tax ditch association are maintained by the local government. This area is not suitable for public access but is an excellent wildlife corridor. There are significant public lands along the river in Worcester County.
4a) Pocomoke River Water Trail
The Pocomoke River Water Trail is a potential water trail route on the Pocomoke River in western Wicomico County. The water trail will tie into the emerging water trail system in Worcester County, which includes the Bogiron Water Trail along Nassawango Creek and the lower Pocomoke River.
5) Salisbury-Hebron Rail Trail
The Salisbury-Hebron Rail Trail is a potential rail trail which runs between Salisbury and Hebron. The rail line is currently owned by the state but could be transferred to the county for trail development. An extension to Vienna may also be possible. A utility corridor that branches off the rail line at Mardela Springs and heads northwest to the county’s San Domingo Park and on into Delaware is managed as a wildlife corridor.
6) Salisbury/Pocomoke River Greenways
The Salisbury/Pocomoke River Greenways is a potential on-road bikeway connector that would provide a route across the eastern section of the county and link the greenways network in Salisbury to proposed corridors along Nassawango Creek and the Pocomoke River. Local parks along the corridor provide areas for public access.
7) Salisbury Urban Greenways
The Salisbury Urban Park Greenways is an existing greenways extending in two directions from the city of Salisbury. The corridor begins at River Walk Park in the heart of Salisbury and moves north towards the Wicomico River and Johnson’s Lake. The corridor includes the Port of Salisbury, North Lake Park, Deers Head State Hospital, Northwood Industrial Park, Naylor Mill Park, and Wicomico County Athletic Complex, and ends at Leonards Mill Park.
To the southeast, the greenways corridor extends along the Wicomico River and Beaverdam Creek. Beginning at River Walk Park, this branch of the greenways includes Municipal Park, and the Salisbury Zoological Park and ends at Schumaker Park. A proposed bicycle route could link local school properties, Salisbury State University, and the YMCA to this system and to the potential Salisbury-Hebron Rail Trail.
This urban greenways provides links to the Wicomico Youth and Civic Center, Wicomico Senior High School, and the Elks Lodge and golf course. The greenways has paths for walking and bicycling, and there are paddle boat facilities on the river. It also has the potential to be expanded to connect to other greenways corridors.
7a) Wicomico River Water Trail
The Wicomico River Water Trail which is currently in the planning stage, is a potential water trail along the north prong of the Wicomico River in the city of Salisbury.
8) Winterplace Park and Rail-Trail
Winterplace Park has a partially established rail-trail with areas that allow equestrian activity through large parcels of wet and forested open space east of Salisbury.