On December 19, 2006, President George W. Bush signed legislation establishing the Capt. John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail. The John Smith trail is the first national water trail in the United States and will be administered by the National Park Service. The trail is designed to complement the existing Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Watertrails Network, also administered by the National Park Service.
The trail will commemorate the exploratory voyages of Captain Smith on the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries in 1607-1609. The trail will provide significant new opportunities for education, recreation, and heritage tourism in the Chesapeake Bay Region. As designated by Congress, the trail is intended to play an important role in fostering citizen stewardship of the bay. The law requires the Secretary of the Interior to administer the trail “in coordination” with the highly successful Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Watertrails Network and the federal-state Chesapeake Bay Program that is leading the estuary restoration effort.
“The designation of this route as a national historic trail is an important element in the commemoration of the 400th Anniversary of Captain John Smith's explorations and the settlement of Jamestown”, said Mary Bomar, Director of the National Park Service. “We expect that this trail will foster efforts to protect and restore the region's historic and environmental assets as well as provide visitors with a means of envisioning John Smith's Chesapeake voyages and the environmental, historical, and cultural richness of this national treasure.”
Starting in Jamestown, Va., the new water trail will follow Capt. Smith's two main voyages of discovery up the Chesapeake Bay and also include his incursions into the York and James rivers. The trail follows Smith's first voyage north along the Eastern Shore, then crosses the Bay to present-day Baltimore as it continues southward along the Western Shore and up the Potomac River to what is now Washington, DC before returning to Jamestown. The second leg of the Smith trail travels straight up the Bay to the mouth of the Susquehanna River. The return route southward has stops along the Patuxent and Rappahannock rivers. The Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Water Trails Network, authorized by Congress in 1998, numbers more than 150 gateway sites and over 1500 miles of water trails including the James River alongside Jamestown and reaching into the most distant parts of the watershed, the Chemung River in New York.
The National Park Service will be developing a trail management plan for the new John Smith Trail beginning early in 2007 which will involve extensive public input. Designation of Capt. John Smith's legendary route of exploration around the Chesapeake Bay between 1607 and 1609 will assist in the preservation of the trail's history, highlight the contributions of Native Americans in the Chesapeake region, as well as allow visitors to learn about the Chesapeake Bay's past and present environmental condition. The National Park Service has been an active partner in the restoration efforts led by the Chesapeake Bay Program, focusing principally on interpretive and education efforts through the Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network.
Now the NPS, working with a broad partnership including the Conservation Fund, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and many others throughout the region, will have a new role to develop and manage the first national water trail. The Chesapeake Bay watershed is home to more than 16 million people living in parts of Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia. Since 1983, the Chesapeake Bay Program has coordinated the restoration of the Bay and its watershed.