Maryland legislators introduce plan to designate Chesapeake Bay a national recreation area
Two Maryland Democrats have released draft legislation to designate the Chesapeake Bay as a national recreation area, with plans to formally introduce the legislation in the coming year.
The measure, introduced by Sen. Chris Van Hollen and Rep. John Sarbanes, would significantly simplify the process for securing conservation money for the bay and would connect various sites in the region under the umbrella of the National Park Service.
These sites go beyond Maryland to places like Hampton, Va., the site where the first enslaved Africans were brought to the continent in 1619.
The draft, which will undergo a 90-day public comment period, would only allow the National Park Service to acquire sites voluntarily through donations and sales. It would not authorize the park service to tighten or alter any existing regulations on use of waterways or fishing in the area.
“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,” Van Hollen said in a statement.
If the efforts are successful, the Chesapeake Bay would be the first national recreation area designation since 2009, when Oregon’s Mount Hood was granted the designation. The designation of the bay as a national recreation area has been under discussion for about four decades, including a push in the 1990s by former Sen. Paul Sarbanes (D), the congressman’s father. The younger Sarbanes and Van Hollen formally announced a working group last year, drafting guiding principles for the project this June.
Chesapeake Conservancy President and CEO Joel Dunn hailed the announcement, saying in a statement that “the Chesapeake Bay is just as spectacular as Yellowstone or Yosemite. It is as great as the Great Smoky Mountains and as grand as the Grand Tetons.”
“The Chesapeake Bay, our nation’s largest estuary, is a national treasure,” he added. “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.”