MD Congressional Leaders Push for Chesapeake National Recreation Area

Senator Chris Van Hollen and Congressman John Sarbanes lead the push to establish a Chesapeake National Recreation Area.

Earlier this week, U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen and Congressman John Sarbanes (both D-Md.) were joined by state and local officials to release draft legislation to create a unified Chesapeake National Recreation Area (CNRA). The lawmakers’ proposal would unite a series of National Park Service (NPS) owned and operated park areas and visitor centers, as well as iconic Bay properties, contributed on a voluntary basis to create a unified national recreation area that would provide more federal resources to the watershed region. The aim of the CNRA is to celebrate the region’s diverse cultural and economic history, conserve the Chesapeake Bay, and foster public access while spurring economic growth.

Along with today’s discussion draft release, the lawmakers announced the opening of the public comment period on the draft text and will encourage community members to share their thoughts and input on the plan. The comment period will remain open for 90 days to ensure robust public engagement.

According to the press release: 

“After years of work with our committed partners who treasure the Bay and its bounty, we are proud to present a proposal that will spotlight its unique story and historical significance, generate more prosperity for those who make their livelihood from it, leverage more federal investment, and encourage greater public access to the Bay’s beauty and cultural landmarks,” said Senator Van Hollen. “The release of this discussion draft is just the beginning – we look forward to continuing our engagement with all community stakeholders to get their input on how we can build on this foundation to create a Chesapeake National Recreation Area to achieve our goal of bringing national recognition and greater opportunities to our Bay region.”

“The Chesapeake National Recreation Area will elevate the collective consciousness and appreciation for the Chesapeake Bay. By combining sites that embody what the Bay means to Marylanders, our region and our country with the expertise of the National Parks Service, this project will direct more resources to the Bay, improve public access and promote environmental stewardship,” said Congressman Sarbanes. “Public engagement has been a hallmark of this undertaking so far. Today’s announcement is the product of great collaboration and creativity among the Chesapeake Bay leaders and Members of Congress in our working group. Senator Van Hollen and I are grateful for their continued input, and we look forward to incorporating the public comments into our draft legislation. Alongside our guiding principles, these comments will help inform our decisions and create a National Recreation Area that lifts up this cherished national treasure.”

This draft legislation was developed through collaboration with NPS. In accordance with the ten guiding principles laid out in previous discussions, the CNRA would consist of NPS sites and “partner sites” – park areas on the Bay that currently exist and additional voluntarily “opt-in” participants – would be an official part of the visitor experience and would benefit from National Park Service branding and resources. Participation in the CNRA is completely voluntary, and partner sites would not be owned by the National Park Service. This designation will not impose any additional regulations on recreational or business activities in the Chesapeake Bay waters, and the National Park Service’s authority will not supersede state authority on these matters. The first historic sites of regional importance proposed to be in the CNRA network include Burtis House, Whitehall Manor, and Thomas Point Shoal Lighthouse in Annapolis, Maryland; and the North Beach of Fort Monroe in Hampton Roads, Virginia.

The lawmakers are now accepting public comment on the proposed CNRA legislation and map. Those interested in more closely reviewing and providing feedback can do so at

Read more from Senator Van Hollen. 

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