Washington, DC – U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), a senior member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, has introduced legislation to reauthorize the Chesapeake Gateways and Watertrails program run by the National Park Service. Senator Cardin’s bill continues a successful program that helps visitors appreciate the far-reaching role the Chesapeake Bay has had in our region’s culture and history while boosting our tourism economy.
“The Chesapeake Bay is the economic, historical and cultural heart of our region. The Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Watertrails Network is instrumental to making the entire Bay experience accessible, attractive and enjoyable for Marylanders and all Americans,” said Senator Cardin, Chairman of the Senate Water and Wildlife Subcommittee. “I am proud to help continue federal support for this important program supporting the natural gateways to the Chesapeake Bay.”
Originally authorized as a pilot program in 1998 and has been reauthorized several times since. The program was most recently reauthorized through 2013 in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 202. The Chesapeake Gateways and Watertrails program set up a network of Chesapeake Bay-related sites, such as parks, wildlife refuges, and trails. The Network has grown to 172 sites and water trails in all six states in the Chesapeake Watershed. The National Park Service provides matching grants between $5,000 and $50,000 for projects that enhance public education of and access to the Chesapeake Bay. Only sites that have gone through a rigorous review process and have been formally selected as part of the Gateway and Watertrails Network are eligible for the competitive grants. Visitation at Gateways sites exceeds 10 million people annually, and the competitive grants program is oversubscribed every year.
Identified as a National Treasure by President Obama and his predecessors, the Chesapeake Bay is the largest estuary in North America, with a length of 200 miles and 11,684 miles of tidal shoreline, more than the entire U.S. West Coast. About 100,000 streams and rivers thread through the Chesapeake’s 64,000-square-mile watershed, which is home to almost 17 million people across Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware, New York, West Virginia and the District of Columbia. Twenty-five percent of lands within the watershed are used for agricultural purposes. According to the National Park Service:
· The Chesapeake Bay has been valued at over 1 trillion dollars related to fishing, tourism, property values and shipping activities.
· The commercial seafood industry in Maryland and Virginia contributes about $2 billion a year in sales, $1 billion in income, and more than 41,000 jobs to the local economy.
· These economic impacts are not restricted to the tidal regions of the Bay watershed. Nearly 2 million people go fishing in Pennsylvania each year, contributing over $ 1.6 billion to the economy.
· Roughly 8 million wildlife watchers spent $636 million, $960 million and $1.4 billion in Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania, respectively in 2006 on trip-related expenses and equipment.
· The total impact on the Maryland economy from recreational boating is estimated to be about $2.03 billion and 35,025 jobs.
· Pennsylvania residents spend $1.7 billion on boating annually.
· A recent study in Hampton, Virginia found that resident and non-resident boaters were responsible for $55 million in economic impact to this city.
Joining Senator Cardin as cosponsors of the Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Watertrails Network Reauthorization Act are Chesapeake Bay Watershed Senators Barbara A. Mikulski (D-MD), Mark Warner and Tim Kaine (Both D-VA), and Tom Carper and Chris Coons (D-DE).