July 28, 2023

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

Members of Maryland’s congressional delegation have introduced legislation to establish a Chesapeake National Recreation Area that would include several historical landmarks around Annapolis.

The Chesapeake National Recreation Area Act, sponsored by Democrats U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen and U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes, would establish the area with headquarters in Annapolis and in Hampton, Virginia.

There are around 40 national recreation areas operated by the National Park Service that offer water-based outdoor activities, typically near important natural and cultural features, according to the U.S. Department of the Interior.

“Think of the really important geographic historic landmarks we associate with the National Park Service. The Chesapeake Bay belongs in that category. It’s a national treasure, and it should be designated that way,” Van Hollen told The Baltimore Sun on Thursday. “If we get this national recreation status, it will bring with it the assets of the National Park Service. That means park rangers and more national park personnel and programs.”

The legislation would enable the park service to provide staff and programs at a trio of Annapolis landmarks — the Burtis House, a 19th-century cottage next to the Annapolis City Dock where Captain William Henry Burtis rented fishing boats; Whitehall, an 18th-century mansion first occupied by British colonial officers, and the Thomas Point Shoal Lighthouse, built in 1875 near the mouth of the South River. It is the last screw-pile lighthouse on the bay in its original location.

The city of Annapolis acquired the Burtis House in 2020, while Whitehall is a private wedding venue. The Thomas Point Shoal Lighthouse is owned by the City of Annapolis and is operated by the Chesapeake Chapter of the U.S. Lighthouse Society.

According to Van Hollen’s office, the owners or managers of the sites have expressed interest in being included as initial sites in the recreation area. The legislation would allow the park service to acquire the landmarks, as well as any other potential sites through purchase, a donation or a partnership with the existing owners.

The recreation area would also include the North Beach adjacent to the Fort Monroe National Monument on the bay in Hampton, according to Van Hollen’s office. In 1619, the first enslaved Africans in mainland American colonies were brought to the site.

The idea for a Chesapeake National Recreation Area, a different distinction than a national park, was first brought up in the 1980s in a commentary in The Capital by then-Anne Arundel County Executive Jim Lighthizer, according to a news release from Van Hollen’s office.

The legislation does not specify funding amounts from the federal budget for the recreation area. It would not allow the National Park Service to supersede state authority in fish and wildlife management efforts or acquire property from unwilling landowners.

“The Chesapeake Bay is as spectacular as Yellowstone or Yosemite, as great as the Great Smokies and as grand as the Grand Tetons. Establishing the Chesapeake National Recreation Area expands resources for environmental protection, and makes it clear that the United States cherishes the Chesapeake, the birthplace of American identity,” Chesapeake Conservancy President & CEO Joel Dunn said in a news release.

By:  Dillon Mullan
Source: The Baltimore Sun