The Jack A. Markell Trail links the city of Wilmington to the city of New Castle. Located in northern New Castle County, it loops along and links popular Delaware destinations like the Wilmington Riverfront, The DuPont Environmental Education Center, the Peterson Wildlife Refuge, the Christina River, and the historic sites of New Castle.
The New Castle Industrial Track was a rail line connecting the Wilmington Riverfront and the City of New Castle that was removed from service in the 1970s. Starting in the 1990s, the Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT), Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC), and New Castle County discussed reusing the Industrial Track alignment for an active (bicycle and pedestrian) transportation connection between New Castle and Wilmington. In addition to being an important transportation and recreational route, the greenway (then called both the Industrial Track and Wilmington-New Castle Greenway) was envisioned to also provide significant public health and economic benefits.
The East Coast Greenway Plan (2003) and the 2006 New Castle County Greenway Plan (2006) envisioned the overall greenway and trail network. These plans complement DelDOT’s Delaware Bicycle Facility Master Plan (2005), which was developed to define and implement a statewide system of designated, on-road bicycle routes and improve bicycle travel options. Extensive public outreach conducted during the development of those plans indicated support for an active transportation connection between Wilmington and New Castle.
While Governor, Jack Markell challenged state agencies to “create a world-class statewide network of pathways and trails for Delaware’s citizens and visitors, to promote biking, hiking, walking and active living.” To meet this challenge, the Department of Transportation and the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control lead and formed a partnership with regional and local organizations and government to create the Delaware Trails and Pathways Initiative. Critical policy support for the initiative was obtained from the Delaware General Assembly, which passed Senate Concurrent Resolution 13 in June of 2011. It provided the foundation to build and maintain non-motorized travel connections within and between communities, cities, and towns in Delaware and to link these connections to form uninterrupted networks for walking and bicycling.
A short section of the trail, south of State Route (SR) 273, opened as the New Castle Heritage Trail in 2005. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), a federal economic stimulus package, provided a $1 million allocation. This made possible the fast-track completion of a two-mile trail section in 2010 on a state-owned right-of-way, beginning at SR 273 in the City of New Castle and extending just north of Boulden Boulevard.
Construction of Phase 3, to close the gap over the Christina River and wetlands, began in 2016. At a cost of about $20 million and after almost a decade of planning and construction, the completion of the final 1.1-mile trail section proved to be the most challenging but rewarding endeavor. It finalized the vision for a safe, direct, paved, and nearly uninterrupted non-motorized travel route extending over seven miles between Wilmington and New Castle. The crown jewel of the project is a signature bicycle and pedestrian bridge that crosses the Christina River. The bridge concept was achieved through a collaborative charrette planning process that engaged diverse stakeholders. This phase also realized the construction of a 2,300 foot boardwalk through the wetlands of the Russell W. Peterson Wildlife Refuge, and erection of a smaller bridge on Little Mill Creek that leads to the DuPont Environmental Education Center and the Wilmington Riverfront.
The active transportation pathway provides an alternate route for commuters that will reduce vehicle congestion and pollution. Eighty percent of the bridge and trail costs were funded by the Federal Highway Administration’s Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program, which provides funding for projects that reduce transportation-related emissions in areas with air quality "nonattainment" for ozone, carbon monoxide, and particulate matter. Completed in September 2018, the trail was dedicated to and named in honor of former Delaware Governor Jack A. Markell who championed a statewide trails and pathways initiative during his tenure in office. The Jack A. Markell Trail is part of the East Coast Greenway, a 2,900-mile trail linking the major cities of the Eastern Seaboard between Canada and Key West, Florida.
The Jack A. Markell Trail benefits Delaware residents, visitors, commuters, nature enthusiasts, history buffs, fitness fans, and environmentalists. From looking for a new bike route, to a commute to work that keeps people active and out of traffic, the trail offers a way for everyone to maintain a healthy lifestyle and explore the great outdoors.
The trail provides a heart-healthy environment that is comfortable for bicycle commuters, recreational cyclists, and pedestrians of all ages and abilities. The trail fosters bicycling, walking, and providing safe and convenient non-motorized ways to reach local destinations such as work, shops, restaurants, parks and recreation sites, historic sites, cultural venues, and educational centers.
There’s so much to do along the trail! The trail provides a scenic adventure and recreation facility for walkers, cyclists, hikers, runners, paddlers, and other outdoor adventurers. The DuPont Environmental Education Center (DEEC) showcases the many species of amphibians, birds, mammals, fish, reptiles, and native plants that make their home in the refuge. Visitors can explore interactive exhibits, join a guided tour, or participate in a variety of free and low-cost programs for students, youth groups, adults, families, and teachers. Bikes are available to rent seasonally.
Delaware residents and visitors can explore the Wilmington Riverfront for restaurants, hotels, and nearby attractions like the Delaware Children's Museum, Wilmington Blue Rocks, IMAX Theater, Chase Center, indoor trampoline park, and seasonally an outdoor ice skating rink and Riverboat Queen. Overlooking the Delaware River, Historic New Castle is the oldest continuously occupied town in the Delaware Valley. The trail connects the Riverfront to Historic New Castle’s Battery Park. New Castle's vibrant, historic community remains one of the most important Colonial/Federal villages in America – second only to Williamsburg, Virginia in the number and authenticity of its historic structures. The New Castle Court House Museum is part of the First State National Historical Park.
Environmental Education & Stewardship
The Jack A. Markell Trail has an elevated boardwalk above a section of the Russell W. Peterson Urban Wildlife Refuge, comprising 212 acres of freshwater tidal marsh adjoining the Christina River. Along the trail you may see several species of birds such as the American Bald Eagle, Virginia Rails, Wood Ducks and more. Additionally, American beavers, river otters and turtles can be seen along the river or tidal pool. Located along the Christina River and on the edge of the wildlife refuge is the DEEC, which is operated by the Delaware Nature Society and in partnership with the Riverfront Development Corporation. DEEC is open to the public year-round and features a Visitor Center with panoramic river and marsh views, a 10-acre ornamental garden, a quarter-mile handicap-accessible pond loop extending into the marsh, and trailhead access to the Markell Trail.
View the Jack A. Markell Trail GIS Story Map, prepared by Delaware Greenways, to virtually explore trail destinations and scenery along the JAM!
- City of New Castle - Provided a funding match for the design and construction of one phase of the trail
- Delaware Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Control (DNREC) - State agency responsible for maintenance of the Peterson Wildlife area and other general day to day maintenance of the trail.
- Delaware River & Bay Authority - Instrumental in the design and construction of the trail tunnel under I-295, which is now maintained by the Delaware Department of Transportation
- Delaware Department of Transportation - State agency responsible for project management and oversight of entire trail project
- Federal Highway Administration - Provided funding through Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP), federal stimulus grant (ARRA), and Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program
- JJID, Inc. - General contractor for trail construction
- New Castle County - Design and construction, day-to-day maintenance, and operation of one phase of the trail
- Riverfront Development Corporation - As a land owner, responsible for the day-to-day operations and security monitoring of a trail segment
- Whitman Requardt & Associates, LLP (WRA) - Conceptual design of three phases of the trail, final design of two phases, and general program management support
- Other project partners - Includes champions such as Delaware state and local legislators, advocacy groups, non-profit organizations, the private sector, and citizens
Organizations Providing Stewardship, Educational, and Environmental Programming
- Delaware Greenways
- Delaware Nature Society
- DuPont Environmental Center
- Russell W. Peterson Wildlife Refuge