South Wilmington Wetlands Park is More Than an Amenity; It’s Green Infrastructure

South Wilmington Wetlands Park is More Than an Amenity; It’s Green Infrastructure Main Photo

6 Mar 2023


The South Wilmington Wetlands Park is more than a recreational amenity. It is an award-winning green infrastructure solution that uplifts the Southbridge community of Wilmington, Delaware. The park will help restore and enhance 14 acres of wetlands, including stormwater capacity. 
"What this wetland does is it mitigates flooding. It stores over 2 million gallons of stormwater that previously caused flooding in these homes back here,” Public Works Commissioner Kelly Williams told Delware Public Media. “It improves our water quality as the storm water traverses over a mile of wetlands; it restores the tidal wetland with 62 different planted species." 

South Wilmington Wetlands Park: The Recreation

South Wilmington Wetlands Park is a nearly 30-acre engineered wetlands that includes a range of natural habitats, from freshwater tidal marshes to shrub meadows and upland forests. An ADA-accessible boardwalk traverses the center of the park to connect Southbridge with the bustling Riverfront to the west, thereby increasing local walkability and recreational opportunities. The pathway allows the full beauty of the park to be experienced while connecting the Southbridge community to nearby jobs and retail shopping.

South Wilmington Wetlands Park: Solving Flooding

The historic Southbridge neighborhood, surrounded on three sides by the Christina River, was built on former marshland. For decades, neighborhood residents would find their streets and sidewalks flooded with millions of gallons of stormwater during nearly every rain event. The chronic flooding the neighborhood faced was intensifying because of sea-level rise.  

South Wilmington Wetlands Park: Green Infrastructure Solution

Green infrastructure is a nature-based approach that addresses an environmental challenge such as flooding by using plants and soils and the natural processes of infiltration and absorption. South Wilmington Wetlands Park, designed and managed by RK&K, used tidal channels, banking, and native plants to transform a heavily contaminated 17-acre public property infested with invasive-species vegetation. Southbridge’s aging plumbing was also re-engineered to separate 36 acres of combined storm and sanitary sewers. This separation allows stormwater to flow into the wetlands to be soaked up like a sponge, while the sewer pipes go directly to the City’s wastewater treatment plant. 

The extensive, nearly $30 million project was funded by city bond funds, a NOAA/National Fish & Wildlife Foundation grant, state and federal brownfield funding, and a grant from The Nature Conservancy. In 2021, The City of Wilmington’s South Wilmington Wetland Park project took home a Government Award from the Water Resources Association (WRA) of the Delaware River Basin during the WRA’s 38th Annual Recognition Dinner.

South Wilmington Wetlands Park: Environmental Justice

Since the early 2000s, the residents of Southbridge have advocated tirelessly through the Southbridge Civic Association for solutions for the flooding of their neighborhood. In 2014, the community’s decades-long efforts paid off with the city’s approval of the park. As the park nears completion, the historically Black Southbridge neighborhood will benefit from a safer, more livable community with improved access to jobs and retail. The park is a prime example of how green infrastructure can protect against climate impacts and center the needs of at-risk communities.

South Wilmington Wetlands Park: The Future

The park illustrates how restoring healthy natural ecosystems as green infrastructure in urban settings can effectively address community challenges. Recently, the South Wilmington Wetlands Park was used as a teaching site for students from Delaware Technical Community College who were part of the Delaware Sea Grant (DESG) Green Infrastructure Internship Program.

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