There's a new destination on the map for outdoor enthusiasts in honor of former Delaware Governor and U.S. Congressman Mike Castle who put a lot of hard work into enhancing outdoor recreation during four decades of service in the First State.

The former governor along with Gov. Jack Markell, U.S. Senator Chris Coons, U.S. Congressman John Carney, Secretary Collin O'Mara of the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control came together to officially open and dedicate the Michael N. Castle Trail at the C&D Canal. The first phase stretches nine miles from the southern end of the Branch Canal west to the Summit Bridge, and will extend even further in the near future.

"Opening this new trail will help support tourism, connect communities, get people outside and help improve their quality of life through healthy activity and enjoyment of nature," said DNREC Secretary Collin O'Mara.

Bicyclist Nancy Waddell has already been on the trail and plans to take advantage of it by visiting it several times a week. "It is perfect for me because I live about a mile and a half from this area so I can just come through the little town of St. George's and I'm right here," said Waddell.

Although Castle played a huge part in the development of the trail, the original vision started with a group of trail users.  Castle helped initiate the project which started to take shape in 2012, nearly eight years after Castle was joined by constituents determined to use the canal area.

"It's fitting that the trail be named for someone who spent so much time and effort working, along with his state director, Jeff Dayton, to help create it," said U.S. Congressman John Carney.

The trail is now a part of Gov. Markell's First State Trails and Pathways Initiative.  The idea is to create a network of new and enhanced trails as well as pathways for equestrians, bikers, hikers and those who prefer to take a stroll.

"Each time we open a new trail, we are a step closer to our vision of a statewide trails network that will allow residents and visitors to see Delaware's natural beauty up close, connect local businesses with new visitors, and link our communities," said Gov. Markell. "As a cyclist, I look forward to adding the Michael N. Castle Trail to my list of favorite places to ride."

A Pennsylvania couple were among the first on the newly opened trail and they were impressed at what Delaware has to offer after riding their bikes on the trail on Friday. "It was wonderful with nice views. We saw that it was trail right along the canal and there's no traffic and that's very appealing so we gave it try. We love the water, we love the eagles so we thought we come on down," said bicyclist Cheryl Heineman who came in on the trail from Chesapeake City, Maryland.  

Last month, construction began on the newest phase and is expected to be completed in late 2014. By the time crews are finished, the trail will extend a full 16 miles (the length of the Chesapeake and Delaware canal) from Delaware City to Chesapeake City, Maryland.  The canal first opened in 1829.  The trail is on the northern side of the canal.

DNREC's Division of Fish and Wildlife will manage the trail.