WASHINGTON – Last week, U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen and Congressman John Sarbanes (both D-Md.) were joined by state and local officials, economic leaders, watermen, advocates for conservation and others at Burtis House in Annapolis as they released draft legislation they’ve authored to create a unified Chesapeake National Recreation Area.
The lawmakers’ proposal would unite a series of National Park Service owned and operated park areas and visitor centers as well as iconic Bay properties contributed on a voluntary basis to create a unified national recreation area that would provide more federal resources to the watershed region to celebrate its diverse cultural and economic history, conserve this environmental treasure and foster public access to the Chesapeake Bay while spurring economic growth.
The comment period will remain open for 90 days to ensure robust public engagement.
“After years of work with our committed partners who treasure the Bay and its bounty, we are proud to present a proposal that will spotlight its unique story and historical significance, generate more prosperity for those who make their livelihood from it, leverage more federal investment and encourage greater public access to the Bay’s beauty and cultural landmarks,” said Sen. Van Hollen.
“The Chesapeake National Recreation Area will elevate the collective consciousness and appreciation for the Chesapeake Bay. By combining sites that embody what the Bay means to Marylanders, our region and our country with the expertise of the National Parks Service, this project will direct more resources to the Bay, improve public access and promote environmental stewardship,” said Congressman Sarbanes.
“One of the main goals of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement is increasing public access to the Bay’s resources. The draft legislation being announced today would help do just that,” said U.S. Senator Ben Cardin.
This discussion draft legislation was developed through collaboration with NPS and the working group that Sen. Van Hollen and Congressman Sarbanes convened last year, and in alignment with the 10 guiding principles laid out in June. In accordance with those principles, the CNRA would consist of NPS sites and “partner sites” – park areas on the Bay that currently exist and additional voluntarily “opt-in” participants – would be an official part of the visitor experience and would benefit from National Park Service branding and resources. Participation in the CNRA is voluntary and partner sites would not be owned by the National Park Service.
This designation will not impose any additional regulations on recreational or business activities in the Chesapeake Bay waters, and the National Park Service’s authority will not supersede state authority on these matters.
The first historic sites of regional importance proposed to be in the CNRA network include Burtis House, Whitehall Manor and Thomas Point Shoal Lighthouse in Annapolis; and the North Beach of Fort Monroe in Hampton Roads, Virginia.
The CNRA will highlight the stories that often go untold – those of Indigenous peoples; free and enslaved Blacks; the role the Bay played in the earliest days of the Maryland and Virginia Colonies; the key part the Bay has played, and continues to play, in the region’s economy; and the story of watermen and -women who are essential to the economic success and health of the Bay region. Everyone who resides in the watershed has an important role in Bay conservation and culture.
“Making the Chesapeake watershed a National Recreation Area is the right thing at the right time. The restoration of the Chesapeake will be a collaborative and unified approach that will need an element of celebration, passion, love of nature and Bay culture. The waterman community will provide generations of invaluable knowledge and resolve to help see the job done. Through this designation, we will see our Chesapeake Bay flourish ecologically and economically in the years to come,” said Johnny Shockley, founder of Blue Oyster and a Hoopers Island waterman.
The lawmakers are now accepting public comment on the proposed CNRA legislation and map. Those interested in more closely reviewing and providing feedback can do so at vanhollen.senate.gov/cnra.