WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), a senior member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Tom Carper (D-Del.), Ranking Member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Mark Warner (D-Va.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) on Wednesday introduced legislation to reauthorize the highly successful Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Watertrails program run by the National Park Service. For more than 20 years, the Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Watertrails Network has expanded public access to the Chesapeake Bay through a state, local, and federal partnership of 172 Chesapeake sites, parks, wildlife refuges and water trails. The program facilitates enhanced interpretation, education, youth employment, recreation and access to the Chesapeake Bay and rivers, and trailheads for the Captain John Smith Chesapeake and Star-Spangled Banner national historic trails.
The bicameral, bipartisan effort to reauthorize the Chesapeake Gateways and Watertrails Program is spearheaded in the House of Representatives by Congressman John P. Sarbanes (MD-3). The legislation is endorsed by the Chesapeake Conservancy, National Parks Conservation Association, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Choose Clean Water Coalition, and National Parks Conservation Association.
“The Chesapeake Bay is a national treasure and contributes $1 trillion to our regional economy. But if you cannot get to the Bay, you cannot enjoy all it has to offer,” said Senator Cardin. “The Gateways and Watertrails program has been a gamechanger, making the entire Bay experience accessible, attractive and enjoyable for all. I am proud of our ongoing, regional effort to continue federal support for this important program supporting the natural gateways to the Chesapeake Bay.”
“This program is one of best tools at our disposal to boost public access to the places that make the Chesapeake Bay Watershed such an important national treasure, “ said Senator Carper. “Delaware boasts a variety of sites – both coastal and inland – that speak to the cultural and natural value of the region and draw visitors who contribute to our state’s $3 billion a year tourism economy. I’m excited to continue my support of this crucial federal-state partnership.”
“Virginians deserve to be able to enjoy all the natural treasures that our Commonwealth has to offer, and the Chesapeake Bay is no exception,” said Senator Warner. “Reauthorizing the Chesapeake Gateways and Watertrails program will facilitate community access to the Bay and further public education about the Bay’s unique history and rich ecology. This legislation will also continue to boost Virginia’s outdoor recreation industry, which supports 197,000 direct jobs and generates more than $21 billion in consumer spending per year.”
“The Chesapeake Bay watershed is one of our greatest natural resources, providing wonderful recreational opportunities and supporting the livelihoods of millions across our region,” said Senator Coons. “Thousands of visitors from around the country visit our region to immerse themselves in our breathtaking natural landscapes and experience all of the natural, cultural, and historic sites the Chesapeake has to offer. I am proud to be an original co-sponsor of the bipartisan reauthorization of the Chesapeake Gateways and Watertrails program.”
“Every year, the Gateways and Watertrails Network teaches millions of visitors about the vital historic, economic, and environmental role the Chesapeake Bay watershed plays,” said Senator Kaine. “There are over three dozen Gateways and Watertrails sites across Virginia, and I’m proud of this bipartisan effort to continue supporting them and the surrounding local economies.”
“The Bay is a national treasure and a critical economic driver in Maryland. Reauthorizing the Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Watertrails program will ensure that families can continue to make memories on its waters and shores for generations to come. I’m pleased to support this effort to boost tourism and preserve the Bay, and I will continue working in Congress on this crucial issue,” said Senator Van Hollen.
Visitation at Chesapeake Gateways sites exceeds 10 million people annually, and the competitive grants program is oversubscribed every year. The National Park Service Chesapeake Bay Office 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.