Monday, April 19, 2021

A "National Recreation Area" for the Chesapeake

 Chesapeake Bay, southern Maryland could see new federal park, heritage designations

The Maryland congressional delegation is pushing legislation to protect and enhance the natural resources throughout southern Maryland and the Chesapeake Bay area with new federal park and heritage designations.

Democratic Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen, both of Maryland, and Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Towson, have mounted a bicameral effort to form a working group that would explore designating the Chesapeake Bay region as a national recreation area. This group would be made up of lawmakers and more than 30 regional organizations.

Efforts to protect the nation’s largest estuary have been floating around for decades.

In his 1984 State of the Union Address, then-President Ronald Reagan said he regarded the Chesapeake Bay as a “productive recreational area and a special national resource.”

“Marylanders know the Chesapeake Bay is a national treasure,” said Van Hollen, who is leading the working group effort. “Designating a Chesapeake National Recreation Area will highlight that reality – and bring national recognition to the importance of the Bay and its natural, cultural, historical, and recreational significance.”

“This is also a unique chance to bring new resources to protecting the Bay and to generate new opportunities to grow Maryland tourism and outdoor recreation,” he said.

Places designated as national recreation areas were initially spaces surrounding reservoirs. Now, the concept has expanded to offer visitors opportunities to experience more than just water-based outdoor activities.

Golden Gate Park in San Francisco is a national recreation area, an urban waterfront space that includes the former penitentiary on Alcatraz Island, the Sutro Baths ruins and the Presidio of San Francisco.

The Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area on the Oregon coast features the nation’s largest coastal sand dunes. Visitors can drive off-road vehicles, camp or bird-watch.

National recreation areas also often include significant natural and cultural elements.

Chesapeake Conservancy President and CEO Joel Dunn applauded the efforts of the lawmakers heading the project.

“A Chesapeake National Recreation Area would be a land-based, 21st century park, uniting new and existing National Park Service sites and trails, as well as partner parks, to increase public access to the Bay and to create a national park-worthy visitor experience for all to enjoy,” he said in a statement.

Dunn also said a Chesapeake NRA would bring economic benefits to the region.

“Along with protecting natural, cultural, and historic resources and connecting people to nature, national parks have a proven, positive economic impact on surrounding local economies,” he said. “A Chesapeake National Recreation Area would strongly support the Bay region’s outdoor recreation economy, which contributes billions of dollars annually through recreation and tourism activities.”

The Working Group is set to collaborate in the coming months over proposed legislation that eventually would lead to creating a new Chesapeake National Recreation Area.

Given that Democrats have the House, Senate and the White House, I don't doubt that they can do something. It will be interesting to see the specifics of the proposal. Maybe they could use Sparrows Point in Baltimore. 

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