About the Trail

About the Trail > Legislation & Purpose

Legislation to establish the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail was signed into law on December 19, 2006, as an amendment to the National Trails System Act (16 U.S.C. 1244). A feasibility study completed by the National Park Service earlier in 2006 determined that a trail based on the routes of Smith’s explorations met the three criteria for designation as a national historic trail:

  • Is a route established by historic use
  • Has national significance, and
  • Has the potential for recreational use or historical interest.

Feasibility Study and Environmental Assessment

The current planning process builds upon early planning documents. The Feasibility Study and Environmental Assessment for the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail, published in July 2006, was an essential part of the trail designation process. The document, prepared by the National Park Service and available for public comment prior to publication, is the foundation for trail planning. You can read the document by selecting the files below.

Statement of Significance

The statement of significance for the John Smith Trail is a report on national significance used to determine whether the proposed trail meets criteria for designation as a national historic trail. You can read a brief overview or download the document in its entirety or in sections.

The legislation specified that the new trail will consist of “a series of water routes extending approxminately 3,000 miles along the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries in the states of Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, and in the District of Columbia that traces the 1607-1609 voyages of Captain John Smith to chart the land and waterways of the Chesapeake Bay.” The Secretary of the Interior will adminster the trail in coordination with the Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Watertrails Network and the Chesapeake Bay Program, and “in consultation with federal, state, tribal, regional, and local agencies and the private sector.” View the law that established the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail.

Why the Trail?

The purpose of the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail is threefold:

  • to commemorate the exploratory voyages of Captain Smith on the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries in 1607-1609;
  • to share knowledge about the American Indian societies and cultures of the 17th century;
  • to interpret the natural history of the Bay (both historic and contemporary).

The trail will complement the Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Watertrails Network and provide new opportunities for education, recreation, and heritage tourism in the Chesapeake Bay region. In providing a focus on and appreciation of the Bay’s natural and cultural resources, the trail will help to facilitate their protection.

Bi-partisan support to establish the trail reflected great interest in the 400th-anniversary of the settlement of Jamestown, Virginia—the first permanent British colony in North America—as well as Captain John Smith’s pioneering explorations. Helping people to understand the rich heritage of the Chesapeake and what has changed over 400 years encourages citizen involvement in restoring the Bay. This potential for citizen stewardship continues to garner support for the trail from many partners in Bay restoration efforts.

Interactive Content

For Boaters

Boaters Guide

Download the official Boater's Guide.

Download Guide >

Smart Buoys

Smart Buoys

Learn about buoys marking the trail.

Find Out >

Get the App!

Chesapeake Explorer app

Download our FREE mobile app!

Learn More >

My Adventure Planner

Boat Wheel

Create your own custom itenerary.

Get Started >