May 17, 2024

Van Hollen Urges Support for Chesapeake National Recreation Area Bill at Senate Hearing

Hearing marks important step forward in the Senator’s efforts to create the CNRA

On Wednesday, U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) spoke in support of his Chesapeake National Recreation Area (CNRA) Act during a hearing before the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources National Parks Subcommittee. The Senator’s bipartisan, bicameral bill, introduced with Congressman John Sarbanes (D-Md.), would unite a series of voluntarily contributed park areas and iconic Bay properties under the operation of the National Park Service (NPS) to create a Chesapeake National Recreation Area and in turn 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.

A video and full transcript of Senator Van Hollen’s remarks is available here and below:

SENATOR CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D-MD.): I want to thank you [Chairman King], Ranking Member Daines, members of the Committee, for the opportunity to speak to you on the Chesapeake National Recreation Area Act, a bill that I introduced with Senators Cardin, Warner, and Kaine, and that has been introduced in the House of Representatives on a bipartisan basis by Congressman John Sarbanes of Maryland and Congressman Wittman of Virginia.

As I think everyone here knows – Senator Daines referenced the Bay in his comments – the Chesapeake Bay is a natural treasure that sits at the heart of my home state of Maryland and is a watershed that includes six other states up to New York as well as the District of Columbia.

While there is a National Parks office that works to improve access to the Bay, there is no dedicated Chesapeake Bay unit of the National Park Service, a surprising gap in our National Park system.

The idea for a Chesapeake National Recreation Area was born four decades ago, motivated by the desire to formally recognize the Chesapeake Bay as the national treasure that it is and to provide all Americans with more of an opportunity to experience it.

If enacted, the Chesapeake National Recreation Area Act would allow the National Park Service to – through voluntary agreements – partner with states, localities, and private entities to increase public access to the Chesapeake Bay.

A Chesapeake National Recreation Area would allow visitors to experience the Bay firsthand, and learn about the incredible resources and restoration effort, and strengthen the culture of stewardship across the region.

It will also provide visitors with an opportunity to learn about the rich history of the region and those who have lived and worked on the Bay.

A national recreation area for the Chesapeake Bay would also create jobs and accelerate economic growth in the region. That designation will attract visitors to the Bay – boosting outdoor recreation, our tourism economy, including our boating economy.

Importantly, the establishment of a Chesapeake National Recreation Area will not – and I want to stress this – impact water or fishing rights, supersede state authority, impose any additional regulations on recreational or business activities in the Chesapeake Bay waters, or require any sale of real estate.

This bipartisan initiative has been driven by local leaders since the beginning, and it was developed through an exhaustive public outreach and meaningful collaboration process with a broad range of stakeholders.

I started working on this with Congressman Sarbanes and local advocates in 2018, conducting informal outreach, developing legislative language, and soliciting technical advice from the National Park Service.

We formed our Working Group in 2021, composed of a bicameral group of lawmakers, state government representatives, and more than 30 regional organizations.

In June of 2022, the Working Group released ten guiding principles outlining a framework for what the Chesapeake National Recreation Area would be.

Later that year, we released a discussion draft based on the working group's guiding principles, held many information sessions with interested stakeholders, and had a six-month-long public comment period.

We compiled over 1,300 comments and integrated feedback into the bill.

We finally introduced it in July of last year with strong support.

The bill has garnered over 100 endorsements from local elected officials, environmental and historical preservation organizations, seafood and outdoor recreation businesses, and many more.

Mr. Chairman, I ask unanimous consent to submit the 74 letters of support from groups throughout the Chesapeake Watershed.

And I want to thank the many organizations and individuals who contributed their time and energy to turning an idea into a bill, the bill that's before the Subcommittee today.

I know some of you are here in the room and I thank you for your unwavering support.

Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Daines, I also want to thank the National Park Service and the agency's partnership in developing this initiative and for the invaluable technical assistance provided by Wendy O'Sullivan from the NPS Chesapeake Bay office.

Our working group, the 74 groups who wrote letters of support for this initiative, and the many others who have supported this project have made it what it is today. They have refined and improved it from the initial concept.

Chairman King, Ranking Member Daines, members of the Committee, thank you for the time to testify here today and I urge your support for this legislation. Thank you.

SENATOR ANGUS KING (I-MAINE), NATIONAL PARKS SUBCOMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Senator Van Hollen. The process you described, the development of this legislation, sounds like a model of local input and I appreciate the work that's gone in.