Middle Chesapeake Sentinel Landscape – Nanticoke River

Capitate Beakrush
Photo Credit: Kerry Wixted

The Nanticoke River, named for the Nanticoke Indians whose lives were intimately linked to the water, runs for 65 miles from central Delaware, through the Eastern Shore of Maryland, to the Tangier Sound and the Chesapeake Bay. The river corridor also forms one of the primary branches of the John Smith Chesapeake Trail, the nation’s first historic water trail, and remains culturally significant to three American Indian tribes.

The Nanticoke River watershed is regionally and nationally significant for its biodiversity.  The river is home to hundreds of rare, threatened, and endangered species, including globally rare plant species and unique plant communities. This beautiful river has its own Important Bird Area and is a large component of the internationally recognized Chesapeake Bay Estuarine RAMSAR Site.  The irreplaceable species that live there and the habitats they depend upon are threatened by fragmentation, development and climate change.

Beginning in 2008, the Chesapeake Conservancy brought together a team of non-profits and government agencies to develop new datasets and relationships with landowners, garner substantial additional financial resources from government and private sources, and conserve high priority lands. These accomplishments have helped to protect the unique flora and fauna of the Nanticoke for current and future generations.  The project has become one of the premier examples of large landscape conservation and collaboration on the east coast.

In April of 2015, the US Departments of Defense, Agriculture, and Interior designated the Nanticoke River and its surrounding areas as the Middle Chesapeake Sentinel Landscape.  As of this writing, the project has protected 9 properties totaling 1,164 acres within the Sentinel Landscapes and along the river corridor. The total cost of protecting these properties was $4.2 million and includes contributions from state, federal and private funding sources.

Additional partners include the State of Delaware, State of Maryland, National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Patuxent Naval Air Station, The Conservation Fund, The Nature Conservancy, Nanticoke River Watershed Conservancy, Natural Resources Conservation Service, and several private foundations, especially the Mt. Cuba Center.

Project Timeline:

  • In 2008, on the heels of the establishment of the John Smith Chesapeake Trail, the U.S. Department of the Interior, states of Delaware and Maryland, and the Chesapeake Conservancy signed an agreement to work together to protect the Nanticoke River.
  • In 2013, Chesapeake Conservancy raised $1.5 million to protect key properties along the Nanticoke River.
  • In 2014, Chesapeake Conservancy processed 1 m x 1 m, high resolution land use land cover data for the Nanticoke River watershed, enhancing decision making options for all of our partners.
  • In 2014, the Chesapeake Conservancy’s Nanticoke River proposal was awarded $1 million through the Department of Defense’s nationally competitive REPI Challenge to protect property along the Nanticoke to protect Naval Air Station Patuxent River readiness.
  • In 2015, the Departments of Agriculture, Defense, and the Interior designated the Nanticoke River and its surrounding areas as the Middle Chesapeake Sentinel Landscape.
  • In 2015, the Chesapeake Conservancy raised an additional $1.65 million to protect additional key properties along the Nanticoke River.
  • In 2016, the Department of Defense (DoD) nationally competitive REPI Challenge awarded $1 million to help conserve lands located within the newly designated Naval Air Station Patuxent River and Atlantic Test Ranges Sentinel Landscape in Southern Maryland and along the Nanticoke River.

360 Degree Virtual Reality Tours

Google street view style tour

Fully immerse yourself in the pristine Nanticoke River and see many sights as Captain John Smith and the American Indians would have seen them over 400 years ago

Public Access

Vienna, MD

The Conservancy supported the Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ acquisition of a small property along the Vienna waterfront. This property has the unique position of accomplishing local, state, and federal conservation and recreational access goals by adding to the Vienna Greenbelt Project, expanding the Vienna Riverwalk, helping protect important wildlife habitat in the nearby Mill Creek Natural Heritage Area, and enhancing the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail.

Woodland Wharf

In 2012, with the Conservancy’s support, DNREC acquired one of the priority parcels for public access located on the Nanticoke River. This 0.5-acre parcel, called Woodland Wharf, is an ideal intermediate access point along the eight-mile water trail segment between Phillips Landing and the Town of Seaford. The Conservancy and our partners are working to Develop this site to improve access to the John Smith Chesapeake Trail.

Mobile Boater’s Guide

Plan your next adventure along the Nanticoke River with the Mobile Boater’s Guide to the John Smith Chesapeake Trail. Find where you can launch your boat and learn about the river’s geography, history, wildlife, and the best type of craft for boating excursions in each area.

Nanticoke Conservation Opportunity Analyst


The Nanticoke Conservation Opportunity Analyst helps organizations prioritize areas across the watershed that meet agreed upon “conservation criteria.” A panel of controls allows user to specify their level of interest in five categories: historical/cultural, habitats, ecological connectivity, existing protected lands, and proximity to public proximity. By running the tool several times with different values, users can quickly understand how regional priorities change based on their preferences and which landscapes are continually determined to be high value.