Text Size: A  A  A

Public Access

In 2013, a total of 36 new public access sites were opened to the public.  This results in a total of 1,208 existing public access sites throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed in 2013.

2013 Public Access

Map: 2013 Public Access

Date created: Jun 09 2014 / Download

Existing public access sites in the Chesapeake Bay watershed as reported by state partners through 2013. Sites added in 2013 are depicted in orange, while sites existing before 2013 are blue.


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:

  1. Any unit of federal, state, or local government; or
  2. A non-governmental organization operating under an agreement with a governmental agency.

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:

  • Boat-related access: boat ramps, car-top boat launches, soft launches (supporting paddle craft, motor, and/or sail boats)
  • Swimming access: designated areas appropriate for swimming
  • Fishing access: piers, bank fishing facilities or easements, and parking adjacent to the water
  • Viewing access for water, wildlife, and shoreline areas: nature trails, hiking or biking trails, waterfront trails, boardwalks, and observation decks located at or leading to the water’s edge.

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:

  • Development of a new public access facility on a site owned and operated by a governmental entity or non-governmental organization operating under an agreement with an entity of government
  • Development of a new type of access at an existing site, such as a fishing pier added to a site that currently has a boat ramp

A total of 1,208 existing public access sites were identified as providing access to the Chesapeake Bay and its streams (fifth-order and higher) as of December 31, 2013. Specifically, there are currently 7 existing public access sites in Delaware, 591 in Maryland, 35 in New York, 196 in Pennsylvania, 312 in Virginia, 44 in West Virginia, and 23 in Washington, D.C.

In 2013, Virginia added 15 sites, Pennsylvania added 8, Maryland added 9, New York added 3, and Delaware added 1.  No new sites were developed in the District of Columbia or West Virginia. Cumulatively, there were more public access sites developed in 2013 than in previous years; 36 new public access sites were opened to the public in 2013, while 18 were opened in 2012, and 15 are estimated to have been developed in 2011. As of 2013, partners have met 23 percent of the goal to add 300 new access sites by 2025.

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.

2013 public access increase is attributed the increase in publicity on the importance of public access, some states are using public access as a criteria for their funding programs, as well as the distribution of funds for public access awarded two years ago are just now coming through. This indicates that this trend might be continued in the coming years.

Additional Information

2013 Update & Baseline Revisions

During 2013 calendar year data collection one additional existing public access site was identified in Pennsylvania. In accordance with methods described in 2011, the baseline for the Chesapeake Bay Program public access indicator was amended for 2013 and updated to include the existing sites in Pennsylvania.  These revisions increase the public access indicator baseline to 1,139 sites.

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.


Amy Handen
National Park Service (NPS)
(410) 260-2493

Source of Data

Chesapeake Bay Program

Related Indicators

410 Severn Avenue / Suite 112
Annapolis, Maryland 21403
Tel: (800) YOUR-BAY / Fax: (410) 267-5777
Directions to the Bay Program Office
Terms of Use | Privacy Policy
©2012 Chesapeake Bay Program | All Rights Reserved