ANNAPOLIS — U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen and Congressman John Sarbanes, joined by members of a Congressional working group, announced draft legislation this week that would create a unified Chesapeake National Recreation Area (CNRA) and invite public comment.
State and local officials, economic leaders, watermen, advocates for conservation and others were on hand to share their support of the proposed CNRA which would be a land-based, 21st-century park, uniting new and existing National Park Service (NPS) sites and trails, as well as partner parks, to increase public access to the Chesapeake Bay and to create a national park-worthy visitor experience for all to enjoy.
Chesapeake Conservancy President and CEO Joel Dunn issued the following statement celebrating this significant progress toward the CNRA, “This is a great day for the Chesapeake Bay. Through national parks, monuments and recreation areas, the National Park Service recognizes and honors some of the most cherished landscapes in our nation.”
“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,” Van Hollen said. “The release of this discussion draft is just the beginning — we look forward to continuing our engagement with all community stakeholders to get their input on how we can build on this foundation to create a Chesapeake National Recreation Area to achieve our goal of bringing national recognition and greater opportunities to our Bay region.”
“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,” Sarbanes said.
“The Chesapeake Bay is just as spectacular as Yellowstone or Yosemite,” Dunn said. “It is as great as the Great Smoky Mountains and as grand as the Grand Tetons. A July 2022 public opinion poll showed profound support for National Park Service status for the Chesapeake, with 83% of Maryland, Virginia and Washington, DC respondents in favor of establishing a Chesapeake National Recreation Area. The Chesapeake Bay, our nation’s largest estuary, is a national treasure. The Chesapeake is the birthplace of American identity and the landscape that bore witness to the many diverse people who have lived along its shores, including the Indigenous peoples who lived here for thousands of years before the Europeans arrived, free and enslaved Blacks, and the watermen and women who’ve all played a vital role in the story of our Chesapeake Bay. Their stories are worthy of National Park Service interpretation and education.”
This discussion draft legislation was developed through collaboration with NPS and the working group that Senator 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,” which are park areas on the Bay that currently exist and additional voluntarily “opt-in” participants, who would be an official part of the visitor experience and would benefit from National Park Service branding and resources.
Participation in the CNRA is completely 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 increase diverse public access to the Chesapeake Bay and strengthen the culture of stewardship across the region. Additionally, the CNRA will highlight the stories that often go untold, those of indigenous peoples; free and enslaved Black people; 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 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.
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 https://www.vanhollen.senate.gov/cnra.
The comment period will remain open for 90 days to ensure robust public engagement.