After living in Vermont off and on for so long, it’s honestly strange to be planted in Delaware for the next year. I’m going to spend it working toward leaving the restaurant industry, which will allow me to freely travel regionally, so don’t think for a moment I’ll be returning to week after week of restaurant reviews. However, while my life equalizes after moving homes within town, my options are going to be a bit limited. One of the things I had in Vermont that I miss dreadfully here is a great deal of close outdoors. Drive a half an hour outside Burlington in the correct direction, and you’ll lose cell signal and gain a couple thousand feet in altitude. In Delaware, our options are more limited. So, if you’re an outdoorsy type here on business or visiting the University of Delaware or some such, this article (and several more in the near future) will be for you.
White Clay Creek State Park seems to pervade the Newark area, with delightfully wild areas separated by neighborhoods and business plazas. It’s a gem so well hidden that I suspect many Newark residents forget about it and drive at least an hour away for their fix of the outdoors. Admittedly, Shenandoah and Gettysburg aren’t far, and they are certainly more full of history and far more extensive than anything we have within Delaware. However, our parks’ tendency to be less awesome is offset by their proximity, and they’re still plenty awesome.
The Judge Morris Estate Parking Area sits on Polly Drummond Hill Road, ten minutes from I-95 and about one minute from Kirkwood Highway. The private residence of Federal Judge Hugh M. Morris is now a part of the park, as after his death he donated it to the University of Delaware, with which he was deeply involved. The state of Delaware acquired it from the University in 1998, and the house and grounds are now a part of White Clay Creek State Park. In fact, you can rent the house for your event; information is on the Delaware State Parks website. Even without a reservation, however, visitors can walk right up to the house so long as there’s nothing going on. It was originally built in 1790, and the grounds include a pond (which was frozen over this weekend).
History’s nice, but we came out to be surrounded by nature, not bask in humanity’s mark on the earth. Thus it was that, after a quick jaunt around the house and down to the frozen pond, we headed back to the Chestnut Hill trailhead and into the woods. The Chestnut Hill Trail is a big loop with two spurs to modulate the distance you’ll actually hike. The first cuts through a field that is actively farmed (though through the winter it’s nice and empty), descriptively called the “Field Spur.” The other is simply the “Chestnut Hill Spur,” and cuts the walk probably in half. The full trail is 3.3 miles long, but I can’t seem to find any maps more specific about distance than this one. I can tell you that our unhurried walk took under two hours, and that we took the Field Spur but not the Chestnut Hill spur.
My favorite part of the experience was the fact that I really felt like I was able to be away from society for a little while with little to no risk. Anytime you leave your house, you’re taking a risk, and going out into the cold and away from things developed to accommodate humans heightens that. Hiking’s not an extreme sport, but there’s still plenty that could go wrong. A huge strength of taking our hike here was the fact that we were never truly far from society, and we always had cell signal. Were something to go wrong, help would have been relatively easy to find. That balance of safety and seclusion made my experience hiking at the Judge Morris Estate a truly excellent one.
Coming up, I’ll be visiting other bits of White Clay Creek State Park and other parks around my area. Stay tuned!