July 28, 2023

Van Hollen, Sarbanes introduce legislation to create Chesapeake National Recreation Area

On Thursday, U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen and Congressman John Sarbanes, both D-Md., introduced bipartisan, bicameral legislation to create a unified Chesapeake National Recreation Area. The bill proposes to unite a series of voluntarily contributed park areas and iconic Bay properties under the operation of the National Park Service in order to provide more federal resources for environmental conservation, celebrate the Chesapeake’s diverse cultural and economic history, foster sustainable and equitable access to the Bay, and spur economic growth in the watershed region.

The introduction follows a nearly six-month-long comment period on the draft legislation that the lawmakers unveiled last fall, during which Bay watershed residents and stakeholders were invited to share their input on the plan. The effort to establish a CNRA is supported by a wide array of more than 100 stakeholders spanning local elected officials, environmental and historical preservation groups, economic development organizations, racial justice advocates, seafood and outdoor recreation businesses, and many more. State and local elected officials who have voiced their support for this effort include Maryland Governor Wes Moore, former Governor Larry Hogan, Baltimore City Mayor Brandon Scott, Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks, Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman, and State Senator Sarah Elfreth, among others. More than 60 letters from public officials and organizations have been submitted in support of the CNRA proposal.

Van Hollen and Sarbanes were joined in introducing the legislation by 15 of their colleagues: Senators Ben Cardin, D-Md., Mark Warner, and Tim Kaine, both D-Va., and U.S. Representatives Don Beyer (D-Va.), Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Glenn Ivey, D-Md., Jennifer McClellan, D-Va., Kweisi Mfume, D-Md., Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., Jamie Raskin, D-Md., Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Md., Bobby Scott, D-Va., David Trone, D-Md., and Rob Wittman, R-Va..

“The idea of creating a Chesapeake National Recreation Area isn’t new — it’s been discussed for over four decades. But today we’re moving that vision one big step closer to reality. After two years of working together with folks across the Bay — from residents, to environmental advocates, to local officials in Maryland and Virginia, to those who make their living from the bounty of the Bay – today’s introduction of bipartisan Chesapeake National Recreation Area legislation is a significant milestone toward bringing greater national recognition and opportunities to the Bay we cherish,” Van Hollen said.

“We’re grateful to the thousands of individuals who shared their thoughts with us on how to make the original proposal even stronger. This feedback not only helped us make sure this bill responds to community needs, it also revealed deep, diverse, and widespread support for what we seek to accomplish by creating this CNRA,” he continued. “We’ll be working hard to get this bill passed in order to mobilize sustainable federal support for Bay restoration, generate more prosperity for those whose livelihoods depend on a vibrant Bay, spotlight its unique story and place in American history, and encourage greater public access to and enjoyment of everything it has to offer.”

“The Chesapeake Bay is an unrivaled natural resource and national treasure that is invaluable to our region and beyond,” Sarbanes said. “By designating a unified National Recreation Area for the Chesapeake Bay, we are elevating the regional stories that shaped our nation’s history, promoting the spirit of stewardship across the watershed, investing in our economy and protecting the Bay for future generations. I am grateful to the thousands of individuals who have engaged with us over the last several years to help shape this legislation to reflect the priorities of Maryland residents and communities across the watershed. I look forward to the continued collaboration of federal, state, local and private partners as we work to pass this legislation.”

Broadly, the CNRA would consist of NPS sites and “partner sites” – park areas on the Bay that currently exist and voluntarily “opt-in” to participate in the CRNA. These 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. The first historic sites of regional importance proposed to be in the CNRA network include Burtis House, Whitehall, and Thomas Point Shoal Lighthouse in Annapolis; and the North Beach of Fort Monroe in Hampton, Virginia.

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 CNRA will broaden 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 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.

“Generations of Marylanders’ stories are connected by memories formed while working, playing and living on the Chesapeake Bay. This designation will honor and build on those legacies by making the Bay’s resources more accessible, allowing visitors to better interact with the watershed and understand the importance of environmental stewardship,” Cardin said. “With the expertise of the National Park Service and other key stakeholders on natural and cultural resource conservation and outdoor recreation, we are investing in the long-term prosperity of the Bay.”

“With its rich history, ecological significance, and abundant recreational opportunities, Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay is a treasured asset that is vital to our state’s heritage, culture and economy. By supporting the establishment of a unified Chesapeake National Recreational Area designation, we can leverage federal resources to help conserve, celebrate and provide access to this important resource, while also driving economic growth through job creation, new business opportunities, and ecotourism. This is a critical opportunity to strengthen our state’s economy while preserving and providing access to this remarkable and storied natural resource,” said Maryland Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Mary D. Kane.

“A Chesapeake Bay National Recreation Area would provide an incredible opportunity to showcase Maryland’s significant cultural, environmental, historical, and natural resources, and provide an international platform for the State of Maryland and the broader Chesapeake Bay watershed. My Administration has worked to preserve our waterways by funding instrumental programs to help enhance and protect the Chesapeake Bay, while prioritizing environmental justice for the low-income communities and communities of color. Historically, these communities in the Chesapeake region often suffer disproportionate impacts of environmental hazards. A NPS designation would help reduce these barriers and provide greater access to all the Chesapeake Bay has to offer while coordinating with local communities to support their needs. I look forward to working together in the effort to enhance, protect and restore this resource so that future generations can enjoy both the beauty and bounty of the Chesapeake Bay,” said Maryland Gov. Wes Moore.

“The Salisbury Area Chamber of Commerce strongly supports your efforts to establish this National Recreation Area which will foster public access to this national treasure while spurring critical economic growth for the region,” said Salisbury Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO William Chambers.

Additional current and former public officials, local governments, and economic development groups supporting the CNRA are: Beach to Bay Heritage Greenway, Calvert County Board of Commissioners, Chestertown Mayor David Foster, Chickahominy Tribe, Easton Mayor Megan Cook, Former Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, Greater Salisbury Committee, Lower Susquehanna Heritage Greenway, Maryland State Senator Sarah Elfreth (D-SD-30A/B), Nansemond Tribe, and Rappahannock Tribe Chief Anne Richardson.


By:  Angela Price
Source: The Star Democrat