May 26, 2017

Chesapeake Bay Senators Urge Robust Funding for Gateways and Watertrails Grants

U.S. Senators representing Maryland, Virginia and Delaware are calling on appropriators to fully fund the Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Watertrails Program, which supports public education about and access to the Chesapeake Bay.The letter was signed by SenatorsChris Van Hollen andBen Cardin (both D-Md.), Tom Carper and Chris Coons (both D-Del.), andMark Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-Va.).

The senators shared with Senators Lisa Murkowski and Tom Udall, chair and ranking member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies, how Gateways sites draw more than "10 million people annually, and the competitive grants program is oversubscribed every year." They urged robust funding, saying "it is critical that the federal government continue to be a reliable partner in providing access to the nation's largest estuary."

"To experience the Chesapeake Bay is to understand the importance of preserving this natural treasure," said Senator Van Hollen, member of the Senate Appropriations Committee. "For recreation and for Maryland jobs, a clean and thriving Bay is essential. We must maintain access to the Bay and its tributaries to keep the Bay healthy, and we must support the Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Trails program so families can continue to make memories on its waters and shores for generations to come."

"The Chesapeake Bay is the economic, historical and cultural heart of our region,"said Senator Cardin."The federal government, through the Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Watertrails Network, is instrumental to making the entire Bay experience accessible, attractive and enjoyable for Marylanders and all Americans."

"Not only is the Chesapeake Bay an economic engine and an environmental resource that millions across our region depend on, it is a national treasure that all Americans should be able to enjoy," said Senator Carper. "Funding for the Gateways and Watertrails program helps to ensure that residents and visitors alike can appreciate all the Bay has to offer for years to come."

"The Gateways and Watertrails Program helps locals and visitors alike experience the rich cultural footprint of the Chesapeake Bay," Senator Warner said. "These resources not only support education about the Bay's history and ecology, but also help power the revenue-generating regional engine that is the Chesapeake Bay."

"We are blessed in Delaware to be a part of the Chesapeake Bay watershed and to have access to wonderful recreational opportunities on the Nanticoke River," said Senator Coons. "The Chesapeake Bay Gateways Program is critical for linking parks, trails, museums, and more to ensure that both residents and visitors to our region can experience all of the great historic, cultural, and recreational opportunities the Chesapeake has to offer."

"This initiative has helped support the Captain John Smith Trail, which will soon be a major Virginia landmark thanks to the newly uncovered Werowocomoco site, the historical headquarters of Chief Powhatan and reputed spot where John Smith encountered Powhatan's daughter Pocahontas," Senator Kaine said. "Preserving places like this is not only intrinsically valuable but a worthwhile investment in the Chesapeake Bay tourism economy."

The Chesapeake Bay is the largest estuary in North America, with a length of 200 miles and 11,684 miles of tidal shoreline, more than the entire U.S. West Coast. About 100,000 streams and rivers thread through the Chesapeake's 64,000-square-mile watershed, which is home to almost 17 million people across Maryland, Virginia, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New York, West Virginia and the District of Columbia.

The full text of the letter is below:

Dear Chairman Murkowski and Ranking Member Udall:

As the Subcommittee develops spending priorities for Fiscal Year 2018, we strongly urge you to reauthorize appropriations for the Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Watertrails Program one year to ensure continued robust funding for its two vital components, the Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Watertrails Network and the Chesapeake Bay Gateways Grants Assistance Program. We also thank you for your commitment to the Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Watertrails Program for Fiscal Year 2017 of the full National Park Service-requested amount of $2,020,000. We recommend the following language:

Section 502(c) of the Chesapeake Bay Initiative Act of 1998 (Public Law 105-312; 54 U.S.C. 320101 note) is amended by striking "2017" and inserting "2018."

Originally authorized as a pilot program in 1998, the Chesapeake Gateways and Watertrails Program set up a network of Chesapeake Bay-related sites, such as parks, wildlife refuges, and trails. Through more than 170 sites, the Gateways Network partner sites and water trails enable visitors to experience authentic places in the Chesapeake Bay. The National Park Service provides matching grants for projects that enhance public education of and access to the Chesapeake Bay.Only sites that have gone through a rigorous review process and been formally selected as part of the Gateway and Watertrails Network are eligible for the competitive grants.

Visitation at Gateways sites exceeds 10 million people annually, and the competitive grants program is oversubscribed every year. Given the importance of forging human connections to the history and ecology of the Chesapeake Bay, it is critical that the federal government continue to be a reliable partner in providing access to the nation's largest estuary. We therefore urge your support for the Chesapeake Bay Initiative by extending the authorization.