Last year, Chesapeake Bay Program partners opened 18 new public access sites across the watershed, putting residents and visitors in touch with the rivers, streams and open spaces that surround the nation’s largest estuary.
Image courtesy John Flinchbaugh/Flickr
New boat launches, boardwalks and wildlife observation trails in Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania and New York bring the total public access sites in the watershed to 1,171. Built along the Bay’s tributaries, these locations allow people to walk, play, swim, fish and launch their paddleboats, sailboats and powerboats into the water.
Public access to open space and waterways can strengthen the bond between people and place, boosting local tourism economies and creating citizen stewards engaged in conservation efforts. As development continues across the watershed, demand for places that allow the public to reach the water remains high.
“Citizens demand additional access to waterfront experiences,” said Jonathan Doherty, acting superintendent of the National Park Service (NPS) Chesapeake Bay Office, in a media release. “They want more places close to home where they can walk, play in the water, fish, paddle and launch a boat. And residents and our partners are excited about increasing the number of those places, because it increases our quality of life.”
Work to improve and establish public access sites is coordinated by NPS and the Bay Program’s Public Access Planning Action Team. Earlier this year, this team released a plan designed to assess barriers to access sites, identify opportunities for new access sites and to make funding for public access a priority. The plan was written in response to the Chesapeake Bay Executive Order, which in 2010 called for the addition of 300 new public access sites in the watershed by 2025.
Scientists at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES) have measured an improvement in Chesapeake Bay health, giving the estuary a “C” in its latest Chesapeake Bay Report Card.
Up from a “D+” in 2011, the Bay Health Index of 47 percent takes into account seven indicators of Bay health, including water clarity and dissolved oxygen; the amount of algae, nitrogen and phosphorous in the water; the abundance of underwater grasses; and the health of the benthic or bottom-dwelling community. While underwater grasses continued to decline, the rest of the indicators improved in 2012.
Image courtesy EcoCheck/Integration and Application Network
“I’m cautiously optimistic about the health of the Chesapeake Bay,” said UMCES Vice President for Science Applications and Professor Bill Dennison in a media release. “We are seeing progress in our efforts to reduce nitrogen and phosphorous levels. In addition, water clarity, which had been declining, has leveled out—and may even be reversing course.”
According to the report card, these improvements are due to a number of weather events. While excess rainfall can push nutrient and sediment pollution into rivers and streams, a dry summer in 2011 led to improvements in water clarity and dissolved oxygen and the favorable timing and track of Superstorm Sandy meant the storm did less damage to the Bay than some feared.
Learn more about the 2012 Chesapeake Bay Report Card.