The Chesapeake National Recreation Area would unite NPS-owned natural sites and visitor centers around the Bay. Image: Virginia Tourism

Weigh in on Just-Released Chesapeake Bay National Park Proposal

The Baywide push to have the entire Chesapeake Bay designated a National Recreation Area is getting official now as two lawmakers from Maryland unveil their proposal. And you have a chance to weigh in on their plan starting now.

On Monday afternoon, Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD 3rd) released legislation for public comment that would create a unified Chesapeake National Recreation Area (CNRA) as a new unit of the National Park Service (NPS). The lawmakers’ proposal would unite a series of NPS-owned and -operated park areas and visitor centers, plus iconic Bay properties contributed on a voluntary basis. The CNRA would provide more federal resources “to celebrate the Chesapeake’s diverse cultural and economic history, conserve this environmental treasure, and foster public access…while spurring economic growth.”  

(From left): Ann Swanson, Chesapeake Bay Commission; Joel Dunn, Chesapeake Conservancy; Mayor Gavin Buckley, City of Annapolis; Executive Steuart Pittman, Anne Arundel County; Sen. Chris Van Hollen; Dr. Kandis Boyd, Director, Chesapeake Bay Program US EPA; Vince Leggett, Blacks of the Chesapeake; Congressman John Sarbanes; Hoopers Island waterman Johnny Shockley. Photo: Jeff Holland

“We are proud to present a proposal that will spotlight the Chesapeake’s unique story and historical significance, generate more prosperity for those who make their livelihood from it, leverage more federal investment, and encourage greater public access to the Bay’s beauty and cultural landmarks,” said Senator Van Hollen.

“By combining sites that embody what the Bay means to Marylanders, Virginians…and our country with the expertise of the National Park Service, this project will direct more resources to the Bay, improve public access, and promote environmental stewardship,” said Congressman Sarbanes. 

Virginia legislators are part of the CNRA working group and helped draft the Maryland lawmakers’ legislation. There is currently one site on the proposed map in Virginia, and the cooperative management agreement authority in the bill would also apply to Virginia sites like state parks, according to Chesapeake Conservancy.

At Burtis House, a historic restoration site at Annapolis City Dock, state and local officials, economic leaders, watermen, and advocates for conservation joined the federal legislators to share their excitement over the potential for a CNRA.  “This will be a true 21st-century park, celebrating the unique, diverse human culture and ecology of the Chesapeake region,” said Joel Dunn, President and CEO of the Chesapeake Conservancy.  Vince Leggett, President of the Blacks of the Chesapeake Foundation, referred to the CNRA as “a string of pearls that can advance the stories of people who have been in the shadows.”  Third-generation Hoopers Island waterman Johnny Shockley of Blue Oyster Environmental added that the CNRA will “celebrate modern watermen who combine traditional practices with science to advance recovery [of the Bay].”      

One important element of the draft legislation is establishing permanent funding for the existing NPS Chesapeake Gateways Network, a 22-year-old string of “diverse natural, cultural, historical and recreational sites, trails, museums, parks, refuges…and associated programs. These places serve as entry points and key guides for experiencing the Chesapeake watershed.”  

The CNRA will increase diverse public access to the Chesapeake Bay and strengthen the culture of stewardship. It will highlight stories that often go untold – those of indigenous groups; histories of free and enslaved Blacks; the role the Bay played in the earliest days of the Maryland and Virginia colonies; the the Chesapeake’s notable impact on the region’s economy; and the story of watermen and women who are essential to the economic success and health of the Bay region.

The lawmakers are now accepting public comment on the proposed CNRA legislation. To review the draft legislation and provide feedback, visit

-John Page Williams