#PeopleofWilmDE: Jim Shanahan

Jim Shanahan is the Executive Director of the Brandywine River Restoration Trust and is this week’s #PeopleofWilmDE. Read his story below. 


“I’ve called this area home for 35 years, and it all started with my move from the bustling streets of NYC to take a job at MBNA. But here’s the twist – for 28 of those years, I was nestled in Landenberg, just a stone’s throw across the state line in Pennsylvania. Back when I lived in Manhattan for 13 years, Wilmington wasn’t exactly my go-to spot, unless it was to hop on the Amtrak to head to New York or Washington.

However, things took a delightful turn when my wife and I decided to plant our roots in the heart of the city seven years ago. We’ve truly embraced city living since then, going out more often, making new friends, and diving headfirst into exciting ventures like BRRT.

Jim Shanahan at ShadFest, with Lt. Governor Bethany Hall-Long

What’s even more surprising is that I’ve gone from being a New York snob to proudly championing Wilmington. The past few years I have witnessed some remarkable changes in the city, and I genuinely believe this upward trend is here to stay.

My ideal weekend in Wilmington kicks off with a leisurely stroll to Dorcea, where an evening of culinary delight awaits. Their Jambalaya is a real standout that could give The Big Easy a run for its money.

Next on the list: The Grand Opera House, a place that feels like our second home. We’re practically regulars there, catching about a dozen shows each year. But let me tell you, nothing gets my heart racing like The Rock Orchestra. They’ve got this knack for putting on mind-blowing tribute shows, capturing the essence of legendary bands like the Eagles and the Beatles. 

And when the night is still young, and our energy still high, we make a beeline across the street to Quoin’s rooftop bar. Trust me, it’s the city’s hippest late-night spot, where the good times just keep on rolling.

One event in Wilmington that holds a special place in my heart is the Brandywine River ShadFest, a fantastic production by BRRT that rolls around every spring. It’s a vibrant celebration where more than 20 environmental organizations come together to offer fun and educational activities for children. ShadFest also features an array of arts and crafts vendors, a diverse culinary landscape, live music, and adult beverages for those looking to unwind.

This year was particularly remarkable, as we welcomed over 1,500 attendees, including a whopping 700 enthusiastic children. What’s even more heartwarming is that over 100 children had the opportunity to receive free fishing lessons and fishing gear, making it a day filled with both learning and enjoyment.

Here are a few fun facts about me:

  1. Despite my dedication to enabling the migration of American Shad, I’m not a fisherman.
  2. I had the unique distinction of starting the first credit card processing company in China.
  3. Unfortunately, I’ve been a lifelong Buffalo Bills fan, and I’m fervently hoping and praying that they will finally win the Super Bowl this year.
ShadFest group of parents, volunteers, and kids.

One of my proudest moments for the City of Wilmington was the removal of the West Street dam in 2019. This dam marked the farthest downstream point and was the barrier preventing the migration of shad. These fish journey from the Atlantic Ocean, swim up the Delaware River, through the Christina, and finally reach the Brandywine.

Before the dam was removed, it was a sad sight to witness the shad bumping their noses against the West Street dam every spring as they attempted to navigate upstream. However, the removal of this dam marked a significant turning point.

One of my proudest moments occurred when the University of Delaware Sea Grant conducted a study in 2020. This study revealed the presence of hundreds of baby shad born upstream from the former West Street dam. This discovery provided conclusive proof that once the dam was removed, the shad could successfully migrate and spawn upstream. It was a heartening validation of the positive impact that such environmental initiatives can have on our natural world.

I dream of Wilmington residents making more use of both rivers, especially the Brandywine, which has been overlooked compared to the Christina. Back in 1994, a task force led by ex-Governor Russell Peterson issued a visionary report titled “A VISION FOR TWO RIVERS.” It offered recommendations for waterfront improvement, economic development, water quality enhancement, and recreational opportunities. While progress has been made along the Christina, the Brandywine lags behind. My dream is for both American Shad migration and recreational activities like swimming, canoeing, kayaking, and boating to flourish on the lower Brandywine, benefiting all residents, especially those living close to this historic treasure.

Here’s some advice: make the most of the activities, events, and resources right here in our own backyard. We’ve got a lot to offer, and we often surpass larger cities in terms of things to do. And remember, skip the parking fees—there’s plenty of street parking available!

Check out Jim & the Brandywine River Restoration on Facebook and Instagram!

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