In 2012, a total of 18 new public access sites were opened to the public. This results in a total of 1,171 existing public access sites throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed in 2012.
Open, green spaces and waterways with ample public access bolster public health and quality of life. People rely on these special places to exercise, relax, and recharge their spirits. Outdoor time strengthens family bonds and nurtures fit, creative children. At the same time, it builds personal connections with the very places that have shaped life in the region for centuries—especially its streams, rivers, and bays. Public access to natural areas also has a distinct economic value as tourism, much of which is associated with the area’s waters, and is a potent force in the region.
The sense of place that evolves from outdoor experiences along Chesapeake waters often leads to a feeling of shared responsibility for the resources. People who enjoy the outdoors are more likely to become active citizen stewards, engaged in the many conservation and stewardship efforts taking place throughout the region.
Despite this importance, physical access to the Bay and its tributaries—the very resources that form the basis for the Chesapeake’s unique identity—is limited.
The Strategy for Protecting and Restoring the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, issued under Executive Order 13508, established a watershed-wide public access goal to “increase public access to the Bay and its tributaries by adding 300 new public access sites by 2025.” Public access site development is now being tracked towards this goal.
As the measure of progress toward this goal, public access sites are defined as those sites owned, operated, and/or managed expressly for a type of public access by:
Additionally, to be counted, a site must be located along a tidal stream or bay, a fifth-order or larger stream, or at the discretion of state planning staff an access site can be considered on streams smaller than fifth-order when such streams are part of a water trail or contribute to its development. A site must also be developed and expressly managed for a type of public access. The types of access included in this effort are as follows:
The Public Access Planning Action Team involved in tracking site development also established a definition of “new” access sites to create consistency in tracking. As a result, the following conditions count towards the 2025 goal:
A total of 1,171 existing public access sites were identified as providing access to the Chesapeake Bay and its streams (fifth-order and higher) as of December 31,2012. Specifically, there were 6 existing public access sites in Delaware, 582 in Maryland, 32 in New York, 187 in Pennsylvania, 297 in Virginia, 44 in West Virginia, and 23 in Washington, D.C.
In 2012, 4 new access sites were developed in Maryland, 4 new sites were developed in New York, 4 new sites were developed in Pennsylvania, and 6 new sites were developed in Virginia. No new sites were developed in the District of Columbia, Delaware, or West Virginia. Cumulatively, there were more public access sites developed in 2012 than in 2011; 18 new public access sites that were opened to the public in 2012 while 15 are estimated to have been developed in 2011.
Based on the opportunistic nature of public access site development, the lack of dependable funding for new access projects and the trends of public access development from the past decade, variation between the numbers of additional sites developed each year is anticipated.
Expanding Public Access
To address the need for additional public access to these waterways, the National Park Service and the Public Access Planning Action Team have developed a Chesapeake Bay Watershed Public Access Plan. As called for in the Strategy for Protecting and Restoring the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, this plan was designed to assess the demand for public access; describe (inventory) the existing public access facilities; assess barriers to public access; determine gaps in the public access system; identify opportunities for new access sites; and help direct federal, state, and local funding toward public access opportunities.
Chesapeake Bay Program