It’s been over 400 years since Captain John Smith and his crew set out in an open boat on their exploration of the Chesapeake Bay, forever transforming the future of these waters, the landscape and her culture. It was between the years of 1607 and 1609 that Smith mapped nearly 3,000 miles of the Chesapeake Bay and her rivers and provided the first documented history of the Native American communities he encountered along the way.
Smith knew then what so many of us have come to understand today; that the Chesapeake Bay is a unique and vital resource whose gifts are both plentiful and staggeringly beautiful. What Smith could never have foreseen was that well before the turn of the millennia the Chesapeake Bay would be in alarmingly acute condition, having suffered from a variety of ailments that would leave her literally gasping for air.
In recent years there has been a powerful movement to restore the Chesapeake Bay to health, conserve her shorelines and reintroduce her to the American public as one of the most historically and naturally significant resources in our country. A game changer in this effort came on December 19, 2006 when President George W. Bush signed into law the bill officially creating The Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail, commemorating Smith’s exploration of the Bay between 1607 and 1609 and managed by the National Park Service. Since that time a collaborative framework of multiple states, agencies and organizations has come together to further the vision and foster the first all-water National Historic trail in our nation. Their goal is not only to enhance stewardship of the Bay and its heritage, but includes such elements as increased public access and tourism opportunities to large scale landscape conservation and educational programming.
Just this week the Trail was expanded even further. In a ceremony held alongside the banks of the Chesapeake Bay in Annapolis, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, joined by Martin O’Malley and other leaders designated four water trails as new historic connecting components of the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail. Spanning five states, the four connecting rivers which include the Susquehanna, Chester, Upper Nanticoke and Upper James add 841 miles to the existing trail and their significance speaks directly to the history, cultural heritage and exquisite natural resources that comprise this 3,000 mile long national historic trail in the Chesapeake Bay. It was a privilege and a joy to see these efforts realized and more than comforting to know that there are those whose vision still stretches out well beyond the next turn in the river.