Major Step Forward for the Chesapeake National Recreation Area

National Parks Subcommittee of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee (ENR) Holds Hearing on the CNRA Bill

Washington, DC – Today, the National Parks Subcommittee of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee (ENR) held a hearing on the Chesapeake National Recreation Area Act (CNRA) (S. 2620) which was introduced by Senator Chris Van Hollen. Co-sponsors include Senators Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Tim Kaine (D-Va.). 

Chesapeake Conservancy Executive Vice President of External Affairs Mark Conway, National Parks Conservation Association Mid-Atlantic Region Senior Program Director Pamela Goddard and Chesapeake Conservancy President and CEO Joel Dunn celebrate a major step forward for the Chesapeake National Recreation Area at the May 15, 2024 hearing of the National Parks Subcommittee of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee (ENR). Photo by Mark Conway

In July 2023, Rep. John Sarbanes (D–MD) introduced bipartisan companion legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives (H.R. 5045). Co-sponsors include U.S. Representatives Don Beyer (D-Va.), Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Glenn Ivey (D-Md.), Jennifer Kiggans (R-Va.), Jennifer McClellan (D-Va.), Kweisi Mfume (D-Md.), Marcus Molinaro (R-Ny.), Joe Neguse (D-Co.), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.), Mary Scanlon (D-Pa.), Bobby Scott (D-Va.), David Trone (D-Md.), Jennifer Wexton (D-Va.) and Rob Wittman (R-Va.).

If passed into law, the CNRA would create a network of landmarks along the Chesapeake Bay and unite new and existing National Park Service (NPS) sites and trails, as well as partner parks. The key goals of this initiative are to increase sustainable public access to the Bay so a more diverse range of visitors can enjoy it; preserve its natural ecosystems, and tell the untold stories of Indigenous peoples, free and enslaved Blacks and others with historical connections to the Bay. 

A July 2022 public opinion poll showed profound support for the Chesapeake National Recreation Area, with 83% of Maryland, Virginia and Washington, DC respondents in favor of establishing the CNRA. A Congressional working group was formed in June 2022, and draft legislation was shared in November 2022. Hundreds of public comments were submitted.

Representatives of United4CNRA, a coalition of organizations and people advocating for the CNRA, issued the following statements thanking Senator Van Hollen and the National Parks Subcommittee for this significant step to establish the CNRA:

For many of us, the Chesapeake Bay is home. There is no place like it. Creating the Chesapeake National Recreation Area would expand opportunities for visitors to learn about our nation’s untold stories and rich maritime history. A new national park site will improve access and provide more places to fish, paddle and recreate while protecting our natural environment. More people will be able to explore this vast resource and when they do, they’ll invest in the communities surrounding it. We’re grateful to Senator Van Hollen for his leadership and ongoing support and look forward to our continued work together to make this park a reality.” National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) President & CEO Theresa Pierno

“Thanks to Sen. Van Hollen’s leadership, this is a great day for the Chesapeake Bay, with another step forward in the four-decade effort to establish National Park Service recognition for the nation’s largest estuary. The Chesapeake Bay is as spectacular as Yellowstone or Yosemite, as great as the Great Smokies and as grand as the Grand Tetons. Establishing the Chesapeake National Recreation Area expands resources for environmental protection and makes it clear that the United States cherishes the Chesapeake, the birthplace of American identity. As a great gift to future generations, this legislation ensures public access to our nation’s largest estuary while providing for the needs of those who live here and depend on the bay for their livelihood.” – Chesapeake Conservancy President & CEO Joel Dunn

United4CNRA coalition members have voiced their support for the CNRA. A sampling:

“Latino Outdoors wholeheartedly endorses Senator Chris Van Hollen and Congressman John Sarbanes’ vision for the Chesapeake National Recreation Area.  It is a vision that has been thoughtfully crafted by a broad range of stakeholders, and it centers the protection of diverse landscapes, increased diverse public access, and the celebration of cultural diversity.  We applaud the efforts of Senator Van Hollen, Congressman Sarbanes, and the entire CNRA working group.  We see their actions as an affirmation of the importance of diversity, not for diversity’s sake, but rather for its potential to be a catalyst for a thriving and sustainable regional economy, community, and recreational asset.” – Latino Outdoors Executive Director Luis Villa

To begin to understand the deep connection between Indigenous people and the Chesapeake Bay, one does not have to look very far. The very word Chesapeake is derived from the Algonquian word, Chesapiooc. For 10,000 years, Chesapeake Tribes have been sustained physically and spiritually by the Chesapeake. Despite that, Tribes have been too often left out of the stewardship movement and our stories are undertold. The Chesapeake National Recreation Area will be a significant step toward correcting this wrong.”   – Chickahominy Indian Tribe Principal Chief Stephen Adkins

“The National Park Service serves as one of our nation’s foremost storytellers and steward of our rich and diverse natural and cultural heritage. The Chesapeake National Recreation Area would allow all of the American people and our international visitors to learn about our country’s history and how the Chesapeake Bay has been the landscape of Indigenous history, European exploration, colonialism, independence, slavery and freedom.” – former National Park Service Director “Bob” Robert Stanton (retired)