UD researchers help Laurel residents reimagine town

UD researchers help Laurel residents reimagine townNeighbors ambled along the walking trail near Broad Creek, watching wildlife, kayakers and paddle boarders glide across the water. Children hopped over logs and hunted bugs in a nature playground, while music and the smell of food wafted from Laurel’s downtown commercial district.

These activities, and more, were part of the Fall Ramble along Broad Creek held on Saturday, Sept. 26. Based on a national Better Block model, the one-day Fall Ramble event was designed to help residents and visitors envision what “could be” for Laurel on a permanent basis with The Ramble redevelopment plan.

The Ramble project is a collaborative effort between the Laurel Redevelopment Corporation, the town of Laurel, and the University of Delaware’s Sustainable Coastal Communities Initiative, led by Jules Bruck and Ed Lewandowski.

“By taking advantage of the amenities in their own backyard, like the Broad Creek, the townspeople of Laurel can create a destination spot, a reason for visitors to want to stop downtown in the future,” explained Lewandowski, acting marine advisory services director for Delaware Sea Grant and coordinator for the University’s Sustainable Coastal Communities Initiative, which is housed in UD’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment.

Attractions like the The Shoppes at Village Greenemerged as a community hot spot with café dining, entertainment, local artists and farm fresh produce, among other things, while pop-up shops including Next Level Bike and Boards, created by UD alumnus Paul Moser, and the temporary façade of a proposed residential Cottages at Laurel Mills showcased the potential businesses and residential areas that could thrive in the town.

“And of course the Ramble Tap House. It felt like a meeting spot, a place where everyone went to check in, relax, hear some music and socialize,” said Jules Bruck, assistant professor of landscape design in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

Bruck presented the town leaders with a conceptual “nature based playground” where planted landscapes, logs and trees create a semi-wild environment for children to bug-watch, dig, play in the tall grass and otherwise explore nature.

Research supports the idea that children who spend time in nature are more active, get sick less often and develop better stress management techniques. At the same time, natural playgrounds are sustainable and offer a lower carbon footprint than their plastic counterparts.

During a special ceremony, members of the Nanticoke Indian Tribe blessed the Broad Creek at “The Wading Place,” a site shown in historical records to once have been part of the Nanticoke reservation. Neighbors and visitors stood shoulder to shoulder alongside the tidal waters as the tribe’s assistant chief, Larry Jackson, offered prayer and tribal leader Herman Jackson cleansed the area with a traditional “smudging ritual.”

Assistant chief Jackson presented the event organizers with a commemorative tribal coin and a turkey feather adorned with four colored beads representing the “Four Peoples — north, south, east and west” in symbolic recognition of their keen vision and efforts to bring the community together.

“It was a tremendous way to emphasize community unity and the concept of restoring balance and harmony to the Broad Creek through Laurel,” said Bruck.

The Ramble redevelopment plan grew out of an earlier water quality improvement project by UD, the town of Laurel and the Laurel Redevelopment Corp. Posted signs at the event described plans for a future “floating wetlands” project to help continue water quality improvements in the Broad Creek.

Article by Karen B. Roberts

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