ANNAPOLIS — Maryland and Virginia lawmakers in the U.S. Senate have formed a working group with more than 20 advocacy organizations to establish a national recreational area in the Chesapeake Bay.
The working group will examine where the land-based park would be located, how large of an area it would encompass and address any environmental concerns, along with a list of tough questions raised by the public, as it works to draft legislation.
Making the Bay a unit of the national park system managed by the U.S. National Park Service, would bring in more resources, opportunities and funding, according to Chesapeake Conservancy, an environmental conservation non-profit that has pushed for national parkland on the Bay since its inception.
Creating Chesapeake Bay parkland managed by the U.S. National Park Service may not be that easy given that 98% of the Bay’s 11,684 miles of shoreline is private.
The working group does not have a sense of the size of a potential park because of the limitations of private ownership.
Two possible locations for parkland — which would have visitor centers, wildlife refuges and smaller, local park areas, Perry said — are in Annapolis and near Fort Monroe in Virginia. It was noted that the Eastern Shore should have good access to the park, according to Reed Perry, the manager of external affairs at Chesapeake Conservancy.
The Chesapeake National Recreational Area would essentially be a national park. The U.S. National Park Service uses a number of designations and titles for its 423 national sites, including “National Seashore” or “National Battlefield” but those are just distinctions.
With national park status comes a list of benefits but also the usual pack of tourists. It’s unclear how many tourists would visit, but the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, for comparison, draws millions of people a year.
A park could inspire more conservation efforts similar to restoration movements that began in the ‘80s.
The roots of this effort stretch back to 1984, when Reagan called the Chesapeake Bay a national treasure. In 1986, Annapolis-based newspaper Capital Gazette sparked a full-fledged push when it wrote an editorial with the headline: “Chesapeake Bay National Park is good idea.”
A national park would be federally funded but also self-funding, with recreational fees and other service charges common in national parks. It would also get private donations from foundations such as Chesapeake Conservancy.