Saturday, February 24, 2024

Lawmakers Propose Creating Chesapeake National Recreation Area

A heron perches on rocks in the James River near Mayo’s Island in Richmond. The river is one of many Virginia waterways that impact the Chesapeake Bay. (Sarah Vogelsong/The Virginia Mercury)

RICHMOND — Maryland lawmakers on Monday announced draft legislation to create a unified Chesapeake National Recreation Area.

The proposal would unite a series of park areas and visitor centers owned and operated by the National Park Service as well as privately owned properties along the Bay on a voluntary basis to deliver more federal resources to the region.

By doing so, the proposal would open up new funding streams and allow the National Park Service to better coordinate planning at different sites in and around the Bay watershed.

Lawmakers hope that could then spur economic growth, bolster conservation efforts and increase public access in the Chesapeake Bay.

The legislation was developed in collaboration with a working group of over 30 regional stakeholder organizations, as well as U.S. Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Reps. Bobby Scott (D-Newport News), Rob Wittman (R-Westmoreland) and Elaine Luria (D-Virginia Beach).

“The Chesapeake Bay is a national treasure and a vital economic engine for the Commonwealth,” said Warner in a press release. “This effort will help advance Chesapeake Bay restoration, conserve critical natural and historic sites within the region, and increase recreational opportunities along the Bay.”

The idea to create a Chesapeake National Recreation Area started as an op-ed in Maryland’s Capital Gazette in the 1980s, said U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.). It has garnered support from several lawmakers and public officials over the years, including former Gov. Ralph Northam (D).

“The Chesapeake is the birthplace of American identity and the landscape that bore witness to the many diverse people who have lived along its shores, including the Indigenous peoples who lived here for thousands of years before the Europeans arrived, free and enslaved Blacks, and the watermen and women who’ve all played a vital role in the story of our Chesapeake Bay,” said Chesapeake Conservancy President and CEO Joel Dunn. “Their stories are worthy of National Park Service interpretation and education.”

The public comment period is now open for the draft and will remain open for 90 days.

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