Chesapeake Bay recreation area to balance tourism, what's right for environment, lawmakers say

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The creation of a unified Chesapeake National Recreation Area has entered the next phase of becoming a reality.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen and Rep. John Sarbanes, both D-Md, announced Tuesday that the working group behind the initiative had identified 10 principles behind the recreational area that included prioritizing environmental stewardship and balancing land rights with realistic tourism goals.

Currently, the two most promising locations, according to the working group, would be in Anne Arundel County and the Hampton, Virginia, area.

“Marylanders know the Chesapeake Bay is a national treasure, and creating a Chesapeake National Recreation Area will help further spotlight that fact — bringing national recognition and greater opportunities to our region," Van Hollen said.

He also noted taking such a step better shapes a working draft of the legislation and encompasses the objective for the project.

Van Hollen was not specific as to when legislation would be drafted, saying it could be expected "in the coming months." Despite that, he added it was "full steam ahead" to establish the area.

“Pursuing the creation of the Chesapeake National Recreation Area has been a long undertaking with extensive community engagement and transparency," Sarbanes said. "In collaboration with the stakeholders in the working group, Sen. Van Hollen and I have identified a set of principles that will create an area dedicated to the Chesapeake Bay’s rich history and ecological significance that is accessible to the community."

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Sarbanes echoed Van Hollen's sentiments, calling the release of the framework much-needed progress.

According to the working group's overview of the project,  they will not impose "any additional regulations on recreational or business activities" in bay waters, and the National Park Service’s authority will not supersede state authority.

Linking sites together

Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., questions Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen as she testifies before the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee hearing, Tuesday, May 10, 2022, on Capitol Hill. Van Hollen said Sunday, May 15. he has suffered a minor stroke and is being treated at George Washington University Hospital.
Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., questions Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen as she testifies before the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee hearing, Tuesday, May 10, 2022, on Capitol Hill. Van Hollen said Sunday, May 15. he has suffered a minor stroke and is being treated at George Washington University Hospital.

Joel Dunn, CEO and president of Chesapeake Conservancy, applauded the group's effort to finally make a formal recreational area on the bay a reality after more than 30 years of not gaining traction.

“The Chesapeake Bay is unquestionably a national treasure, worthy of federal recognition and resources to enhance the visitor experience, increase public access and celebrate the bay’s diverse and nationally significant places and stories," Dunn said.

According to legislative principles, the proposed legislation would have to highlight the national significance of bay as a national treasure. As the largest estuary in the nation — with its watershed covering more than 64,000 square miles — legislation creating a national recreation area will highlight the ecological importance, iconic landscape, rich culture and history, and vast recreational benefits of the region.

As a land-based proposal, draft legislation "will greatly enhance recreation and businesses based in the Chesapeake Bay region, it will not impose any additional regulations," the overview stated.

Rather than a single place, the Chesapeake National Recreation Area will build on the success of the National Park Service Chesapeake Gateways and Watertrails Program and elevate key sites around the bay while linking them together under the coordinated brand of the Park Service.

As with any land-based legislation, it will be released for public comment.

The legislation will create an Advisory Commission to allow for continued public input.

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Finally, legislation will create a Citizen Advisory Commission to ensure sufficient community engagement in the development and implementation of the Chesapeake National Recreation Area management plan.

The working group consists of Sens. Ben Cardin, D-Md; and Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, both D-Va; Reps. Bobby Scott, D-Va; Rob Wittman, R-Va; and Elaine Luria, D-Va along with over 40 state and federal organizations and environmental and commercial groups.

This article originally appeared on Salisbury Daily Times: Chesapeake Bay recreation area working group sharpens focus on angoals