By Dennis N. Forney
Photos: Kevin & Jay Fleming
Consider the sounds. At first light, flocks of seagulls yelp as they move inland off the beaches and the ocean for feeding. Blasts of horns warn straggling anglers and other captains that head boats are leaving the docks of downtown Lewes headed for fishing grounds where stripers, trout, sea bass, and tautog await. The first children on the bay beach scream to dawdling mothers to hurry up so they can get in the water under watchful eyes, and lifeguards test their whistles.
Occasionally, there's the rumble of canoes and kayaks dropping from rooftops onto parking lots as paddlers prepare for a day on the creeks, rivers, bay, or ocean of Delaware's Cape Region. The kayakers - in less than half an hour from launching - paddle their way into countless curves of guts that snake into the wild salt marshes inside Cape Henlopen. Scaring up a cranky and squawking blue heron from a mud bank, surprised by the unexpected sound of a paddle scraping against a gunnel, the kayakers sense this special place.
The sounds of each new day - whether gulls and herons in summer or noisy flocks of migrating wintering Canada and snow geese and ducks in fall and winter - confirm the exciting and rich opportunity Lewes and its surrounding area offer to those blending ecology and tourism.
Only the word - ecotourism - is a new phenomenon to Lewes. The area's beaches and marshes and rivers and bays have attracted hunters and fishermen, beachcombers and swimmers, crabbers and hikers for well more than a century. This unique ecotone - the transitional zone between continent and ocean - represents the ultimate playground for those who love nature and immersing themselves in it.
Recent additions to ecotourism opportunities in and around Lewes include organized canoe and kayaking tours through local outfitters and Cape Henlopen State Park, whale and dolphin watching cruises from the docks in the Lewes–Rehoboth Canal, sunset and dinner cruises aboard motor vessels and the tall ship Kalmar Nyckel, pontoon boat tours of Rehoboth and Indian River bays, and a wide variety of organized hikes - day and night - in the state park.
Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge - a short drive north and west of Lewes - boasts one of the east coast's largest freshwater marsh systems, with winter opportunities for upland game and waterfowl hunters and year-round opportunities for birdwatchers and hikers. The refuge also offers premier kayaking and canoeing on miles of creeks that connect an extensive network of shallow marsh ponds.
Listen. It's easy to hear why ecotourism thrives in Lewes.