Public Access

Since 2010, 248 new public access sites have been added or improved in the Chesapeake

At the Chesapeake Conservancy, we believe that when people feel connected to the Bay, they’ll be more likely to be inspired to help take care of this national treasure, by voting for elected officials who care about the environment, or maybe even by inspiring the next generation of conservation leaders who could commit their careers to restoring the health of the Chesapeake. To be able to explore the Chesapeake, residents and visitors first need places where they can access it. With 98% of the Chesapeake’s shorelines in private ownership, the Conservancy has made it a priority to partner with the National Park Service Chesapeake Bay Office to develop and enhance public access along the John Smith Chesapeake Trail as participation in fishing, canoeing, kayaking and other recreational activities continues to grow.

By working with the National Park Service and local partners to establish and improve public access facilities for the John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail, we are helping visitors get out on the water and view the same landscapes Captain John Smith experienced over 400 years ago. These partner efforts strive to fill in the gaps in access identified in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Public Access Plan. This plan emerged as a way to reach the goal put forth in the President’s Executive Order (EO) of adding 300 new public access sites across the watershed by 2025. The Conservancy was the lead non-profit advocate for inclusion of this goal in the Executive Order and is the lead advocate for the National Park Service’s Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Watertrails program, which provides grants to create new public access areas in the watershed. So far, 248 sites have been added since 2010.

The Chesapeake Conservancy and partners cut the ribbon on a fishing pier and soft launch in Port Royal, Virginia (credit: Hill Welford).

The Conservancy also partners with other organizations to promote public access to rivers and streams whenever bridges are built or re-built. In 2013, the Conservancy led a coalition of conservationists, paddlers, anglers, citizens, recreation and heritage tourism groups and local governments in advocating for a Waterway Access Bill in Maryland. Passing almost unanimously, this new law will promote safe and reasonable canoe, kayak and fishing access along Maryland’s bridges and roadways. Learn more about this victory. In addition, the Conservancy and its partners also waterway-access-letter to the Governors of Bay states and the Mayor of Washington, D.C. urging them to take action on this important issue.

Virtual Access

Though, of course, there is no substitute for getting out and seeing first-hand the beauty of the Chesapeake and its great rivers, or how awesome it is to see an osprey dive and catch a fish, or a great blue heron stalk its prey — the reality is that in today’s world people are busy. They don’t always have the time or perhaps the access to go out and see these things first-hand.

New technology offers us the chance to bring the Chesapeake to the public like never before.  At the Chesapeake Conservancy, we have embraced technology as a way of engaging people with conservation efforts.  We use it to connect people to the Chesapeake Bay and its great rivers through programs such as our wildlife webcams and Riverview app, which provides virtual tours of the Chesapeake Trail.

The Chesapeake Conservancy  partnered with Terrain360 to produce 360-degree virtual tours of some of the Great Rivers of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Terrain360 travels downriver in a custom-made pontoon boat equipped with six cameras to capture images along the length of the rivers. The virtual tours allow viewers to see first-hand what a paddling experience or other adventure on the rivers might be like. The maps produced from the images include information on public access points, history, recreation, and points of conservation value along the river. They allow people to explore the Chesapeake Trail from their screens – whether phone, tablet, or PC.

Chesapeake Gateways and Watertrails Network

The Gateways program has allowed the National Park Service (NPS) Chesapeake Bay Office to provide approximately $22 million in financial and technical assistance for more than 360 projects in communities across the watershed, improving Bay access and fueling our thriving outdoor recreation economy.

We are the principal partner for the NPS Chesapeake Bay Office, advocating for Gateways funding.