New initiative to expand access to and preserve Chesapeake Bay watershed
Washington, D.C. – A network of Chesapeake boaters, small businesses, civic groups, local governments, non-profit organizations, paddlers, and recreational enthusiasts today announce a new initiative to expand access for recreation while preserving the Chesapeake Bay watershed and natural landscapes. The launch of the “Freedom to Float” campaign coincides with the National Park Service’s release of its Chesapeake Bay Watershed Access Plan, which provides a blueprint for public access along all of the waterways in the Chesapeake.
“The Chesapeake watershed is home to iconic historical and natural treasures, but long stretches of the thousands of miles of shoreline are inaccessible,” said Ed Stierli, spokesman for the National Parks Conservation Association. “Connecting communities with nature and expanding access will help protect our lands and waters for healthy outdoor recreation including boating, fishing, hiking, camping, and birding.”
The Chesapeake watershed features more than 50 national parks, and connects a landscape that spans Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia. In recent years, Congress designated two new national trails connecting land and water in the region: the Captain John Smith Chesapeake and the Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trails, which commemorates Smith’s exploration of the Chesapeake in the early 17th century and the War of 1812.
President Obama issued an Executive Order in May 2009 calling for the creation of 300 new public access sites in the Chesapeake by 2025. “Freedom to Float” will promote and build additional multiple-use access sites that will enable new and diverse communities to enjoy the natural wonders of the Chesapeake.
Access to the water is important to small businesses, as well as to avid boaters and anglers, throughout the watershed. “Access is crucial for the thousands of small watercraft in the region,” said Ralph Heimlich of Chesapeake Paddlers, Inc. “By improving access, we can help increase awareness about the condition of the Bay and promote new stewards for its restoration.”
Recreation and tourism in the Chesapeake fuels the region’s economy. National parks in the Chesapeake recorded over 54 million visitors in 2010, which contributed to over $1.5 billion in spending and supported over 20,000 jobs. Recreational boating contributed more than $1.3 billion in sales that supported over 11,000 jobs and paid out over $400 million in wages within Chesapeake watershed states. Investing in preserving the landscape and protecting clean water is vital to the region’s economic future.
Building connections with nature is essential to engaging communities in conservation. “Public access brings communities together in discovering and treasuring the shared resource of their local waterway,” said Whit Overstreet of Potomac Riverkeeper. “Without access, communities become disconnected from their rivers and cease to care about how their river is being treated or what is being dumped into it.” In Richmond, Gabe Silver of James River Association agrees that “additional public access on the James River means more places to launch a kayak, hike along the river, watch wildlife, and camp. Investing in the river’s water trails will help Virginia’s economy by boosting tourism and improving the quality of life in communities throughout the river corridor.“
“Freedom to Float” partners have deep community roots. The Anacostia Watershed Society has been working to restore a river that serves as “a place of quiet reflection, abundant wildlife, and surprising beauty in the heart of the nation’s capital,” says spokesman Brent Bolin. “Increasing and promoting access to natural resources in urban areas improves the physical and mental health of local populations, benefits the local economy, and provides a sense of stewardship and pride to communities adjoining the resource.”
“It’s easy to forget that cities are part of a watershed when you can’t see rivers and streams,” said Joanna Ogburn from the Chesapeake Conservancy. “Providing opportunities to access the bay in an urban setting helps reinforce the idea that all of our actions influence the condition of the Chesapeake.”
Partners will be working together to expand access in diverse communities. “Public access to our urban parks and water resources is invaluable to our citizens’ quality of life and key for sustaining a healthy watershed,” said Molly Gallant of Baltimore City Parks & Recreation. “Every day we can introduce more people to this region’s wonderful rivers and streams,” encouraged Hedrick Belin of Potomac Conservancy. “We look forward to working with the National Park Service and Freedom to Float partners getting folks outdoors in a canoe or with a fishing rod to experience these waterways.”
The group is seeking volunteers to take part in on-the-ground access site construction, conservation volunteer events, and in advocacy on the local, state, and national levels for policies to promote access. For more information for how to get involved and take action, visit: www.freedomtofloat.org.
“Freedom to Float” partners include the Anacostia Watershed Society, Baltimore City Parks and Recreation, Chesapeake Conservancy, Chesapeake Paddlers Association, James River Association, National Parks Conservation Association, Potomac Conservancy, and Potomac Riverkeeper.
Learn more about “Freedom to Float” partners at:
About National Parks Conservation Association
Since 1919, the nonpartisan National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) has been the leading voice in safeguarding our national parks. NPCA and its more than one million members and supporters work together to protect and preserve our nation’s natural, historical, and cultural heritage for future generations. For more information, visit www.npca.org.