Chesapeake Conservancy applauds effort to expand Maryland waterways access

The Chesapeake Conservancy today commended Delegates Maggie McIntosh, chair of the Environmental Matters committee, Barbara Frush, and Shane Robinson for introducing a bill that could expand fishing and kayak and canoe access to Maryland’s rivers, streams and waterways.

Their bill, House Bill 797, would require state and local departments of transportation that are planning new bridges or improvements to existing bridges to “incorporate, to the extent feasible, measures to provide or improve in the vicinity of the bridge water access for fishing, canoeing, kayaking, or any other appropriate water dependent recreational activity.”

The bill further instructs these departments, in cooperation with the Department of Natural Resources and interested stakeholders, to create an inventory of bridges and approach highways to bridges that cross waterways where fishing may be possible and where the waterway access may be provided or improved reasonably and safely.

Charlie Stek, Chairman of the Board of the Chesapeake Conservancy, said “As one who has kayaked, fished, or explored most of Maryland’s waterways I know the need for more safe recreational access. Bridges can provide that access cheaply and effectively, and we applaud Delegates McIntosh, Frush, and Robinson for advancing this idea.”

Joel Dunn, Executive Director of the Chesapeake Conservancy, noted that access to the waters of the bay and its rivers remains very limited while participation in fishing, canoeing, kayaking and other recreational activities continues to grow.

Strengthening the connection between people and the watershed, including its streams and rivers, is part of the Chesapeake Conservancy’s mission, Dunn noted. “Making these connections by improving access is one of our top priorities,” he said.

Del. McIntosh said, “We introduced this bill because more safe access to our waterways from public land will promote healthy, outdoor recreation and a better understanding of our state’s natural riches and beauty, and because we see in bridges a real opportunity to create that access.”

Most of the more than 5,100 bridges in Maryland are designed and built in ways that limit access rather than enable it. They lack pull-off areas and parking and often have high guardrails make getting to the water difficult. Yet recreational access to these waterways could be created relatively quickly, at little cost and would provide substantial benefits to the economy, roadway and waterway safety and public health.

Bridge construction requires staging areas and parking spots next to the construction. These facilities are often removed once the bridge is built, but could inexpensively be included as permanent amenities in project design and construction and left to provide public access to the water.

The Chesapeake Conservancy is leading a coalition of groups supporting access at bridges and roadways adjacent to waterways that includes the Maryland Recreation and Parks Association, American Canoe Association, American Sportfishing Association, American Whitewater, and Mid-Atlantic Center of National Wildlife Federation.