The Chesapeake Bay is worth inclusion in the National Park System to enhance public access and protection.

Press Release

New Legislation Brings Proposed Chesapeake National Recreation Area One Step Closer to Reality

Working together to create a Chesapeake National Recreation Area would expand public access to the largest estuary in the nation, bring economic growth to nearby communities, and help the National…

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The Chesapeake Bay is the largest estuary in North America, spanning 64,000 square miles across six states and the District of Columbia. The Bay is recognized as a one of America’s Great Waters and one of the most biologically productive estuaries in the world. The Chesapeake Bay is already home to more than 50 national park sites but not one specifically dedicated to the Chesapeake Bay. The proposed Chesapeake National Recreation Area would do just that, give the recognition this national treasure deserves. The CNRA would improve visitor experience, enhance public access to the Bay, protect the natural environment and tell an interesting story about the Chesapeake Bay.

History and Culture

Throughout the Chesapeake Bay, there are gateways to diverse stories of American History. From Indigenous people’s culture and history to early colonies at Jamestown, the arrival of enslaved Africans, the battlegrounds of the American Revolution, the home to Harriet Tubman and her heroic journey to freedom. The CNRA would enhance recognition of these stories as well as conserve and protect significant historical and cultural resources.


The Chesapeake Bay and the lands and waters that make up its watershed provide diverse ecosystems for the variety of life found here: forests, wetlands and marshes, rivers and streams, beaches and tidal flats, aquatic reefs, open and shallow water. There is also great diversity in the people and cultures who have shaped the communities of the Chesapeake Bay. This diversity of habitats, cultures, and experiences offers endless opportunities for Chesapeake discovery and enjoyment.


The rivers, streams and lands hold diverse ecosystems with many lifeforms, making it one of the most productive ecosystems in the world. Today, outdoor recreation on the bay generates tens of billions of dollars for the region. The CNRA would create more public access to the bay for recreation, including enhanced tourism which stimulates local economies.


A national recreation area (NRA) is a protected area in the United States established by an Act of Congress to preserve enhanced recreational opportunities in places with significant natural and scenic resources. The concept of recreational areas has grown to encompass other lands and waters set aside for recreational use by acts of Congress and now includes major areas in urban centers. There are also national recreation areas outside the National Park System that are administered by the Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture.


The Chesapeake Bay is also the focus of one of the largest environmental restoration efforts in the world. Since the 1980s, protecting the bay has created waves in federal policy to preserve this natural wonder. The legislation for the Chesapeake National Recreation Area will also align with existing goals, including promoting a healthy ecosystem and habitat, conserving and protecting lands, bolstering environmental stewardship and literacy, and incorporating climate resiliency.

The Chesapeake National Recreation Area will unite existing national park units, historic sites and other public land. These locations will be managed in coordination with local, state and federal entities.

Proposed Sites:

  • Burtis House - a 19th century waterman’s home within the National Historic Landmark District in Annapolis, Maryland that will provide visitor services and administrative support;

  • Whitehall - a 1700s era National Historic Landmark located on the Broadneck Peninsula that reflects the English colonial period where the stories of the enslaved have been left untold for centuries;

  • Thomas Shoal Point Lighthouse - the last remaining screwpile light-house in its original location in the United States; and

  • The North Beach of Fort Monroe National Monument located along the Chesapeake Bay shoreline in Hampton, Virginia.

View a map (PDF) >


A Watershed Moment for the Chesapeake

The largest estuary in North America, the Chesapeake Bay watershed encompasses 64,000 square miles including six states and the District of Columbia—it’s a thriving ecosystem that has sustained Native peoples…

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History of Protection

Protecting the Chesapeake Bay has been decades long process, spanning multiple administrations passing specific policies to preserve this landscape. The Chesapeake National Recreation Area is built off years of advocacy for protection of the significant resources and landscape of the Chesapeake Bay. In 1983, Senator Charles Mathias signed the Chesapeake Bay Agreement, an initiative to address pollution and species decline in the bay. The following year, President Ronald Reagan directed funds to the EPA to begin cleaning up in the bay to enhance recreational areas and protect special resources. President Obama issued an executive order recognizing the Bay as a national treasure, resulting in new strategy to protect and restore the Chesapeake Bay.

In 2020, Governor Larry Hogan of Maryland and Governor Ralph Northam of Virginia led the call for legislation to establish a Chesapeake National Recreation Area and the campaign for a park unit dedicated to the Bay is launched. In November 2022, Senator Chris Van Hollen and Congressman John Sarbanes announced draft legislation that would create a unified Chesapeake National Recreation Area.

View a list of supporters (PDF) >

To learn more about the CNRA, visit United for Chesapeake National Recreation Area.


Support the Chesapeake National Recreation Area.

Urge your member of Congress to co-sponsor a bill to establish the Chesapeake National Recreation Area.

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