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July 27, 2023

Trone, Sarbanes, Van Hollen, Colleagues Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Establish Chesapeake National Recreation Area


July 27, 2023

Contact: Sasha Galbreath, 

Trone, Sarbanes, Van Hollen, Colleagues Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Establish Chesapeake National Recreation Area

Introduction follows public review and comment period on draft legislation released last fall

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Congressman David Trone joined Congressman John Sarbanes and Senator Chris Van Hollen (all D-Md.) to introduce their bipartisan, bicameral legislation to create a unified Chesapeake National Recreation Area (CNRA). The bill proposes to unite a series of voluntarily contributed park areas and iconic Bay properties under the operation of the National Park Service (NPS) to provide more federal resources for environmental conservation, celebrate the Chesapeake’s diverse cultural and economic history, foster sustainable and equitable access to the Bay, and spur economic growth in the watershed region.

Today’s introduction follows a nearly six-month-long comment period on the draft legislation that the lawmakers unveiled last fall, during which Bay watershed residents and stakeholders were invited to share their input on the plan. The effort to establish a CNRA is supported by a wide array of over 100 stakeholders spanning local elected officials, environmental and historical preservation groups, economic development organizations, racial justice advocates, seafood and outdoor recreation businesses, and many more. State and local elected officials who have voiced their support for this proposal include Maryland Governor Wes Moore, former Governor Larry Hogan, Baltimore City Mayor Brandon Scott, Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks, Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman, and State Senator Sarah Elfreth, among others. More than 60 letters from public officials and organizations have been submitted in support of the CNRA proposal; they can be viewed here.

“The Chesapeake Bay is essential to Maryland’s way of life. Every year, millions of folks visit the Bay to experience its rich culture, and as climate change continues to impact the environment, we must step up to protect this vital ecosystem,” said Rep. Trone. “Designating the Chesapeake Bay as a part of the National Park System will ensure that Marylanders can enjoy the Bay’s recreation, build on its history, and depend on its jobs for generations to come.”

Congressman Sarbanes and Senator Van Hollen were joined in introducing the legislation by 15 of their colleagues: Senators Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Mark Warner, and Tim Kaine (both D-Va.) and U.S. Representatives David Trone (D-Md.), Don Beyer (D-Va.), Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Glenn Ivey (D-Md.), Jennifer McClellan (D-Va.), Kweisi Mfume (D-Md.), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.), Bobby Scott (D-Va.), and Rob Wittman (R-Va.).

“The Chesapeake Bay is an unrivaled natural resource and national treasure that is invaluable to our region and beyond,” said Congressman Sarbanes. “By designating a unified National Recreation Area for the Chesapeake Bay, we are elevating the regional stories that shaped our nation’s history, promoting the spirit of stewardship across the watershed, investing in our economy and protecting the Bay for future generations. I am grateful to the thousands of individuals who have engaged with us over the last several years to help shape this legislation to reflect the priorities of Maryland residents and communities across the watershed. I look forward to the continued collaboration of federal, state, local and private partners as we work to pass this legislation.”

“The idea of creating a Chesapeake National Recreation Area isn’t new – it’s been discussed for over four decades. But today we’re moving that vision one big step closer to reality. After two years of working together with folks across the Bay – from residents, to environmental advocates, to local officials in Maryland and Virginia, to those who make their living from the bounty of the Bay – today’s introduction of bipartisan Chesapeake National Recreation Area legislation is a significant milestone toward bringing greater national recognition and opportunities to the Bay we cherish,” said Senator Van Hollen. “We’re grateful to the thousands of individuals who shared their thoughts with us on how to make the original proposal even stronger. This feedback not only helped us make sure this bill responds to community needs, it also revealed deep, diverse, and widespread support for what we seek to accomplish by creating this CNRA. We’ll be working hard to get this bill passed in order to mobilize sustainable federal support for Bay restoration, generate more prosperity for those whose livelihoods depend on a vibrant Bay, spotlight its unique story and place in American history, and encourage greater public access to and enjoyment of everything it has to offer.”


The legislation introduced today by Congressman Sarbanes and Senator Van Hollen was drafted in collaboration with NPS and the lawmakers’ CNRA Working Group, and in alignment with the ten guiding principles laid out last summer. It also incorporates stakeholder feedback on the lawmakers’ discussion draft, released in November 2022. The nearly six-month public comment period also included several listening sessions with groups such as local elected officials, neighborhood community organizations and interested parties across the watershed.

Congressman Sarbanes and Senator Van Hollen worked with the CNRA Working Group to review the feedback received from all sources to determine how to best ensure the legislative text as introduced addresses the public’s concerns and suggestions. In response to concerns related to potential traffic increases around neighborhoods near CNRA sites, the lawmakers added provisions directing NPS to conduct traffic planning assistance in a way that prioritizes water and trail access and includes community input in the process. Several additional minor technical edits were made as well. An outline of the changes can be viewed here.

Broadly, the CNRA would consist of NPS sites and “partner sites” – park areas on the Bay that currently exist and voluntarily “opt-in” to participate in the CRNA. These would be an official part of the visitor experience and would benefit from National Park Service branding and resources. Participation in the CNRA is completely voluntary and partner sites would not be owned by the National Park Service. The first historic sites of regional importance proposed to be in the CNRA network include Burtis House, Whitehall, and Thomas Point Shoal Lighthouse in Annapolis, Maryland and the North Beach of Fort Monroe in Hampton, Virginia.

This designation will not impose any additional regulations on recreational or business activities in the Chesapeake Bay waters, and the National Park Service’s authority will not supersede state authority on these matters.

The CNRA will broaden public access to the Chesapeake Bay and strengthen the culture of stewardship across the region. Additionally, the CNRA will highlight the stories that often go untold – those of Indigenous peoples; free and enslaved Blacks; the role the Bay played in the earliest days of the Maryland and Virginia Colonies; the key part the Bay has played, and continues to play, in the region’s economy; and the story of watermen and -women who are essential to the economic success and health of the Bay region. Everyone who resides in the watershed has an important role in Bay conservation and culture.

More details about this initiative can be viewed at

Additional Support for the CNRA:

Generations of Marylanders’ stories are connected by memories formed while working, playing, and living on the Chesapeake Bay. This designation will honor and build on those legacies by making the Bay’s resources more accessible, allowing visitors to better interact with the watershed and understand the importance of environmental stewardship,” said Senator Cardin. “With the expertise of the National Park Service and other key stakeholders on natural and cultural resource conservation and outdoor recreation, we are investing in the long-term prosperity of the Bay.”

“The Chesapeake Bay is synonymous with Virginia, with generations enjoying all that the Bay has to offer,” said Senator Warner. “I’m proud to introduce legislation that will highlight the importance of the Bay, celebrate the diverse cultural and economic history that encompasses it, and help deliver federal resources to assist with the restoration and conservation of its environment.”

“With its rich history and important role in the region’s ecology and economy, the Chesapeake Bay is a national treasure,” said Senator Kaine. “By aiding conservation efforts, improving public access, and encouraging economic growth in the region, creating a Chesapeake National Recreation Area would bring national recognition to the Bay and help ensure Virginians can enjoy it for generations to come.”

“The Chesapeake Bay is a vital, diverse ecosystem and serves as a rich cultural and economic hub for our region. There is no doubt it stands as a national treasure that must be protected and preserved,” said Rep. Beyer. “A National Park Service designation as the Chesapeake National Recreation Area will help secure the resources necessary to strengthen conservation efforts, increase public access, and continue delivering economic benefits to our region for years to come. I’m proud to support this legislation and thank Rep. John Sarbanes and Sen. Chris Van Hollen for their leadership on this issue.”

“Designating the Chesapeake Bay area as a National Recreation Area is an important recognition of all the Chesapeake provides to our region,” said Rep. Connolly. “This federal designation will bring together all of the Bay’s stakeholders to increase and improve public access to its wildlife and natural beauty, as well as provide more federal funding to help preserve this vital ecosystem and its history, which is intertwined with our founding.”

“The Chesapeake Bay is the beating heart of Maryland and one of America’s national treasures,” Rep. Hoyer said. “Designating the Chesapeake Bay as a National Recreation Area will ensure that we can preserve the Bay’s cultural, economic, and natural resources for generations to come. I am proud to join my colleagues in the Maryland delegation in supporting this legislation to establish the Chesapeake Bay National Recreation Area and to continue protecting Maryland’s public lands and waters.”

“I whole-heartedly support designating a Chesapeake National Recreation Area.  This will bring added recognition to the largest estuary in the United States, our local treasure, the Chesapeake Bay.  Further, this status bestowed upon the Bay will provide resources to support its natural and recreational significance. The CNRA helps to promote the cultural and historical significance of this all-important waterway fostering a healthy ecosystem and habitat, conserving, and protecting lands.  It will bolster better stewardship of the environment and enhance eco-literacy, while highlighting climate resiliency,” said Rep. Ivey. “Additionally, from an educational standpoint, the CNRA will highlight histories often bypassed in books – those of Native Americans; free and enslaved Blacks; the role the Bay played in the inception of our marvelous state of Maryland,” added Ivey.

“The Chesapeake Bay is a key driver for economic growth in our region and supports robust tourism, recreation, commerce, and shipping industries that provide over $100 billion dollars in economic value annually,” said Rep. McClellan. “It is also a vibrant source of biodiversity and a crucial natural resource that must be protected by the devastating effects of our worsening climate crisis. I am proud to support this critical legislation to designate the Chesapeake National Recreation Area as part of the National Park System to shore up federal resources and protections of our waterways while increasing public access to the Bay.”

“I am honored to be an original cosponsor of this legislation, which brings national recognition to the Chesapeake Bay and highlights the Bay’s impact on our environment, culture, and history. The Chesapeake National Recreation Area designation will increase tourism to our State and amplify untold stories of the Bay, beginning from the earliest days of Maryland’s history. I applaud this effort to bolster Maryland’s economy and celebrate such an integral part of our state,” said Rep. Mfume.

“I am proud to support this bill designating a Chesapeake National Recreation Area,” said Rep. Norton. “I have always prioritized preservation of parkland and encouraged community engagement. The Advisory Commission this bill would create would act as a liaison between the communities and NPS as the agency works to establish a CNRA. The various interests in the Bay, including commercial and recreational fishing, environmental justice, agriculture, youth, education, and Tribal representatives will be duly represented in this Advisory Commission.”

“The Chesapeake is a natural jewel and a national treasure, and I strongly support its designation as a National Recreation Area,” said Rep. Raskin. “I’ve enjoyed the verdant wonder of the Bay since I was a child, and a National Recreation Area designation will ensure that future generations of Americans will be able to experience the joy of the Bay, its historical significance and its fundamental ecological importance. Assigning the Chesapeake Bay this important designation will honor our commitments to conservation and yield new opportunities for sustainable tourism while fostering local economies and promoting outdoor recreation. I’m thankful to my colleagues Congressman Sarbanes and Senator Van Hollen for their leadership in authoring this crucial legislation.”

“Saving the Chesapeake Bay means saving jobs,” Rep. Ruppersberger said. “Creating a national park designation for the Chesapeake will deliver additional federal resources right when we need it most – as we launch a new restoration strategy to create more economy opportunities for the countless Marylanders whose lives depend on a healthy Bay. I want to salute my Maryland congressional teammates, Congressman John Sarbanes and Senator Chris Van Hollen, for introducing this legislation that will help ensure the Bay remains a vital resource for generations to come.”

“As a co-chair of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Task Force, I am proud to have partnered with my colleagues and stakeholders in a collaborative process to draft this legislation. In too many places throughout the watershed, communities do not have access to parks and beaches to fully enjoy the Chesapeake Bay,” said Rep. Scott. “The creation of a Chesapeake National Recreation Area would elevate the history, recreational opportunities, and natural beauty of the Chesapeake Bay for locals, while also fostering regional tourism. I am particularly pleased with the inclusion of historic Fort Monroe as a CNRA hub to enhance park access in Hampton Roads.”

“Virginia’s First District relies on a healthy Chesapeake Bay,” said Rep. Wittman. “The designation of a Chesapeake Recreation Area would encourage access to the Bay and attract tourists, outdoor enthusiasts, and businesses – all of which are significant contributors to the region’s economy and overall well-being. As a longstanding advocate of the Bay, I’m proud to join my colleagues on this legislation to elevate the stewardship and sustainability of this national treasure.”

Additional quotes and letters in support of the CNRA can be found here.

Further Background on the Initiative to Establish a CNRA: 

The concept of the Chesapeake National Recreation Area has been discussed as far back as the 1980s, spurred by an op-ed in the Capital Gazette and work by Anne Arundel County Executive Jim Lighthizer and followed in the 1990s by the efforts of Senator Paul Sarbanes. Driven by Senator Sarbanes, in 2004, the National Park Service (NPS) released a special resource study which found that the Chesapeake Bay is ‘unquestionably nationally significant and a major part of the nation’s heritage.”

Shortly after his election to the Senate, Senator Van Hollen and Congressman Sarbanes began discussing the possibility of a designated Chesapeake National Recreation Area. In 2019, the lawmakers began working on the effort requesting drafting service from NPS to pursue a national recreation area designation for the Chesapeake Bay. The effort has garnered widespread bipartisan support, and in 2020, then-Maryland Governor Larry Hogan and then-Virginia Governor Ralph Northam shared their backing of the concept in letters to Congress. Congressman Sarbanes and Senator Van Hollen continued to pursue the effort, and in 2021 formally announced a Working Group to foster further discussion with stakeholders and community members on the project. Then in June 2022, the lawmakers released a set of guiding principles to serve as a foundation for the draft proposal, followed by a discussion draft bill for public comment in November 2022. The introduction of bipartisan, bicameral legislation is the next significant milestone in this historic process.

Full list of CNRA working group members: Senators Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), and Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Representatives David Trone (D-Md), Bobby Scott (D-Va.) and Rob Wittman (R-Va.), the State of Maryland; the Commonwealth of Virginia; Chesapeake Conservancy; the Chesapeake Bay Commission; the National Parks Conservation Association; Choose Clean Water Coalition; the Conservation Fund; the Chesapeake Bay Foundation; Maryland League of Conservation Voters; the Nature Conservancy; Potomac Conservancy; REI; the National Trust for Historic Preservation; the American Sportfishing Association; the National Marine Manufacturing Association; the Watermen of Maryland; the Sport Fishing Commission; Historic Annapolis; Oyster Recovery Partnership; Blue Oyster Environmental LLC; Preservation Virginia; Shellfish Growers of Virginia; the James River Association; Virginia Interfaith Power & Light; Marine Trades Association of Maryland; the Audubon Naturalist Society; Living Classrooms; the Hispanic Access Foundation; Latino Outdoors; Southeast Rural Community Assistance Project (SERCAP); Chispa Maryland; Baltimore Tree Trust; Blacks of the Chesapeake Foundation, Clean Chesapeake Coalition, Verna Harrison Associates, Maryland Department of Natural Resources Sport Fisheries Advisory Commission; the National Aquarium; Morgan State University Patuxent Environmental & Aquatic Research Laboratory; the Wilderness Society; the Brandywine Foundation; the United States Lighthouse Society; and the Fort Monroe Authority.

Congressman David Trone was elected to the House of Representatives in November 2018 to serve the 6th District of Maryland, which includes all or part of Montgomery, Frederick, Washington, Allegany, and Garrett Counties. Trone serves on the Appropriations, Budget, and Joint Economic Committees in the 118th Congress. In Congress, Trone is fighting to make progress on issues that matter to Marylanders.

Follow Congressman Trone at @RepDavidTrone for updates on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram.