Dreaming about a Chesapeake Bay National Recreation Area
I've been leading kayak tours for nearly 17 years. One of my kayak gigs was working part time for the YMCA in Easton, Maryland. I took a small group of people out to paddle Kings Creek, a small tributary feeding into the Choptank just east of town. We were treated to a stunning sunset and we were all gushing about how lucky we were to live here and experience the beauty of the Eastern shore on a regular basis.
One man in the group was originally from England, but had moved to the DC metro area a few years prior. Whenever his family came to visit, he said he always made a point to bring them out to explore the bay and the Eastern shore. He remarked that every one of his family and friends that visited the bay was always blown away by its beauty, and were surprised they hadn't really heard much about it before visiting.
That was in 2011 and for whatever reason, that one comment has stuck with me through the years.
Since 2011, I have taken up kayaking as a hobby and I've gotten pretty serious about it. I've even set a goal to paddle all the way around the Delmarva peninsula - I've logged 475 miles so far with about 150 to go! I have seen it all - a pod of dolphins surrounding my boat, cows wading in the bay, a sting ray running into my kayak, thousands of fireflies descending upon the marsh at dusk, an arrowhead washed up on the beach. Typically, I paddle alone and I have time to imagine what the bay and its tributaries were like in centuries past. In many ways the landscape has changed tremendously, but when I'm in an area where there's not a man-made structure in sight and no sounds except the breeze blowing through the grass, I feel connected to those that were here before me, making the stories of the Chesapeake's past come to life.
And then I think back to that comment in 2011 and I think, more people deserve to know about this, and to experience this. The Chesapeake Bay is a massive and beautiful landscape that deserves to be experienced, understood, and valued. But since it's so massive, there needs to be a unified approach and common messaging to tie it all together to create an impactful visitor experience.
That's where the newly proposed Chesapeake National Recreation Area (CNRA) comes in. Senator Van Hollen and Congressman Sarbanes recently released draft legislation to create the CNRA. It would not be a national park, but it would be a collection of sites throughout the bay region that would still fall under the National Park Service. Each site would have ties to the bay's natural and cultural resources and help interpret powerful stories - both nationally recognized stories, as well as stories yet to be told.
Creating a common visitor experience across the region will draw more people to visit the Chesapeake Bay, leading to the potential for the creation of jobs and sustainable tourism. In turn, visitors to the CNRA will gain a sense of stewardship for the bay, ensuring that future generations will continue to protect the bay's natural and cultural treasures. I see it as a win-win-win.
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You can read more about the CNRA and show support by signing the petition here:
That man I paddled with back in 2011 (the guy's name, I never caught!) lit a fire in me that night without either of us even knowing it. And here I am nearly 12 years later, advocating to help people worldwide recognize the Chesapeake Bay's stories, beauty, and significance.
Delmarva Trails & Waterways