A History of the White Clay Creek
A watershed, a preserve, a treasure
On October 16, 1984 the DuPont Company donated approximately 1,350 acres of land to the states of Delaware and Pennsylvania, creating the White Clay Creek State Park and Preserve. It ended one plan for this land—a dam – but created a legacy and a natural resource that has been enjoyed by the local community ever since.
Although the land was officially donated as parkland in 1984, it was the proposal in the early 1960s to build a dam on the White Clay Creek at Wedgewood Road, in Newark, Delaware (to give the residents of Delaware a new water source) that halted the growth and development of the White Clay Valley. The project would have flooded up to the 150-foot elevation the White Clay Creek from Newark, Delaware into Landenberg, Pennsylvania.
Engineers in the ‘60s were predicting water shortages within decades and the only new source for water would be the damming of the White Clay Creek at Wedgewood Road, in Delaware. (see drawing at right). The DuPont Company purchased all but approximately 300 acres of the Valley—up to the 175-foot elevation—in anticipation of needing this new water source in New Castle County.
In Delaware, opposition to the project began with a coalition between the Delaware Sierra Club, the United Auto Workers Union, and concerned citizens.
In Pennsylvania, residents along the White Clay Creek who refused to sell their land formed a group to oppose the project. Their concerns were that Pennsylvania land was being taken to supply Delaware with water. Also they were concerned that large mud flats would be created in Pennsylvania when the reservoir was drawn down, creating a haven for mosquitoes and an eyesore.
Eventually the Pennsylvania opposition came together with the active group from Delaware and in 1965 the White Clay Watershed Association was incorporated.
This grassroots group realized that the water-shortage issue needed to be solved in order to stop the dam project. It was an issue of distribution, not volume. The group worked tirelessly to help New Castle County solve its distribution problems with the interconnectivity, or sharing, of water among the state’s various water companies.
Once the water issue was solved, the issue became what to do with the acquired land. With the involvement of the White Clay Watershed Association and Delaware’s Senator Joe Biden (working with the National Park Service and negotiating the land donation with the DuPont Company), a two-state park system (which encompasses over 4,000 acres today) was created.
DuPont agreed to donate 1234 acres to Pennsylvania and 528 acres to Delaware. As recommended, the lands were accepted by the states and each state established a park that operated as a separate entity.
As part of the negotiation process, the various conservation groups involved in the grassroots effort to save the White Clay Valley had put into the resolution/bill of both states the creation of an advisory board to work with the parks departments in both states, “to consider matters related to the restoration and conservation of the preserve.” The advisory board became known as the Bi-State Advisory Council.
The acreage donated to Delaware expanded the holdings of the White Clay Creek State Park. Formerly called the John S. Carpenter State Park, this recreational area and land preserve was created in 1968 with the lands bought by the state of Delaware through the lobbying efforts of the White Clay Creek Watershed Association. The White Clay Creek State Park currently encompasses over 3,000 acres. The park is a multi-use facility with 37 miles of trails, a picnic area with pavilions, a playground, and a disc golf course.
In Pennsylvania, a new entity was formed as the White Clay Creek State Preserve. At the time, it was the only preserve in the state of Pennsylvania. (A preserve is a natural resources area without amenities such as picnic areas, ball fields, or swimming pools.)
In 2000, President Bill Clinton signed into law a bill designating the entire White Clay Watershed as a National Wild and Scenic Watershed, the first such designation in the United States for an entire watershed, not just a portion of a river. This designation created the White Clay Creek Wild and Scenic Management Committee that works closely with the National Park Service in protecting all the natural resources within the White Clay Valley.
The White Clay Creek State Park and Preserve will now remain in perpetuity as a natural area. Summer, winter, spring and fall the sights and sounds are there for all to enjoy.