Latest News > Improving Access to the Trail

Improving Access to the Trail

on October 22 2013

There are hundreds of public access sites along the more than 2,000 mile route of the trail. However, many trail segments have large gaps with little or no easy public access for getting on or off the water. For example, along the southern shoreline of the James River there is one stretch of more than sixty miles with no public access sites. In addition, there is a growing interest in options for boat-in camping along the trail to allow for multi-day paddling trips; camping options are even more limited than public access sites.

Filling strategic gaps in trail access is a priority; this fits within the broader Chesapeake watershed goal of adding 300 new access sites by 2025. NPS collaborates with a Public Access Action Team to advance progress toward this goal and completed the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Public Access Plan in 2013 to guide overall efforts. Trail segment plans provide further detail identifying specific access priorities along river segments.

Many partners are working to increase access along the trail. NPS provides technical and financial assistance to support access site planning and development. For 2013, NPS set development of canoeing and kayaking access sites along the James, Rappahannock,Nanticoke, Potomac, Patuxent and Lower Susquehanna as its top priorities.

Access along the James River

A Plan for the James River Segment outlined a series of actions for making the trail real including several access improvements. Access sites developed over the past two years or that are now in development are advancing the plan along the James segment of the trail. These include:

  • Lawrence Lewis Jr. Park Boat Launch: This launch, long-sought by Charles City County, opened in 2013 as John Smith Trail partners marshalled funding to support construction. Funding from Dominion Foundation, the Chesapeake Conservancy and Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) added to county monies to fill this major gap in access on the north side of the James. In addition, YCC crews constructed a new beach access trail which now provides an additional opportunity for launching paddle craft and a beach fishing area.
  • Mill Creek Canoe/Kayak Launch at Fort Monroe: NPS financial and technical assistance helped open a new universally accessible canoe/kayak launch in 2013 along Mill Creek at Fort Monroe National Monument.
  • Nansemond River sites: The City of Suffolk, with funding support from Virginia and the Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program, is in the process of developing two new public access sites on the Nansemond River. These will be the first two public access sites on the river, one at Sleepy Hole Park and the other at Constance Wharf, both with universally accessible kayak/canoe launches. They will be key sites supporting the trail.
  • Turkey Island Creek: Trail partners are working with VDOT and Henrico County to develop a new public access site for the James River at the Rt. 5 crossing of Turkey Island Creek. This site was identified in the James Segment Plan and would provide paddle craft access to the James River and Presquile National Wildlife Refuge and support the Capital Bike Trail running from Jamestown to Richmond. The James River Association, with support from the Chesapeake Conservancy, is coordinating planning with the partners and VDOT. The project may be feasible for development in late 2014.
  • Eco-Discovery Park: Two new public access options have been opened at this site in the past year, including a new paddle craft launch and a trail with bank fishing opportunities on Powhatan Creek. The site is owned by James City County.
  • Presquile National Wildlife Refuge: JRA developed a new board walk with a soft launch for paddle craft at the refuge. The soft landing allows for access to and from the refuge via the James Riverand a tidal creek by permit from the USFWS.
  • Upper Chickahominy River (major tributary to James): Two new hand carry access projects are proposed for development by JRA with support funding from NPS. These will enhance access to a large section of the upper portion of the river.
  • Elizabeth River site: NPS financial assistance is supporting the addition of an ADA compliant kayak/canoe launch at a popular public motor boat launch area in Great Bridge Lock Park. The launch site will allow paddlers safe and direct access to the Southern Branch of the Elizabeth River and beyond.

Access along the Rappahannock River

  • Old Mill Park: NPS financial assistance helped the Friends of the Rappahannock (FOR) develop a canoe/kayak launch at Old Mill Park on the Rappahannock River in Fredericksburg, VA. Other contributing partners include the City of Fredericks-
    burg, Chesapeake Conservancy, Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences, and the American Canoe Association.
  • Port Royal: This project will provide for a small launch ramp and a fishing pier near the Rt 301 bridge in Port Royal. This project being developed by the Town of Port Royal is receiving funding assistance from both NPS and the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.
  • Menokin: NPS financial assistance supports planning and design of a public access site on Cat Point Creek within the Menokin Foundation property in Richmond County, Virginia. Extensive site reconnaissance will balance proposed development with conservation of this important indigenous cultural landscape.
  • Town of Tappahannock: The town of Tappahannock is developing a small water access park adjacent to the Route 3 bridge. The site will have a soft landing for paddle craft, a small boat ramp, and a fishing pier once completed. A YCC crew this year cleared a section of a small beach area as a potential hand carry launch site for paddle craft.
  • Put-In Creek—East River Water Trail: NPS financial assistance supports new public access to Put-In Creek from Mathews County-owned property. Improvements include a 2,600 square foot accessible boardwalk trail and canoe/kayak launch.

Access along the Potomac & Anacostia Rivers

  • Piscataway Park: Partially funded by NPS, a new boat dock, fishing pier, and floating dock for paddling access was opened in June, 2013. This new access allows boaters to arrive at the park for touring, gives paddlers a new launch point, and the park plans to offer boat tours in the future.
  • Anacostia: In August 2013, partners opened a universally accessible canoe/kayak dock and launch at Bladensburg Waterfront Park, managed by the Maryland-National Capital Parks and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC). Bladensburg Waterfront Park is a key interpretive location along both the Star-Spangled Banner and John Smith Trails. A second access point is under development by the M-NCPPC at the Bladensburg Wetlands.
  • St. Mary’s City: Significant funding from NPS supports enhancement of public amenities at Chancellor’s Point. The project includes a kayak/canoe launch, picnicking and camping facilities, and interpretive and directional signage. Chancellor’s Point is one of the few publicly owned and accessible properties in the area and offers beautiful views of undeveloped lands along the banks of the St. Mary’s River and a vista across the Potomac to Virginia.
  • Crow’s Nest: NPS is providing financial assistance to help develop a universally accessible kayak/canoe launch at the Virginia DCR’s Crow’s Nest Natural Area Preserve in Stafford County. This new site is scheduled to open in 2014 and will provide paddle craft access to the Potomac River via a large tidal creek. Its development will support the Potomac Segment Plan for the John Smith, Star-Spangled Banner, and Potomac Heritage trails.
  • George Washington Birthplace NM: The NPS announced in July that launching canoes and kayaks from the Potomac River beach at the west end of the park is now permitted, after decades of not being allowed. In addition, the park is seeking permits for a new canoe/kayak launch on Pope’s Creek near the visitor center.
  • Caledon State Park: A YCC crew this summer developed primitive boat-incampsites on the Potomac River at the park. These sites, which must bereserved by permit, are already receiving much use. They support paddle craft use of the trail.
  • Occoquan Water Trail: NPS financial assistance supports a project to enhance access and visitor experiences on the Occoquan Water Trail led by the Prince William County Department of Parks and Recreation. A central feature of the project is the installation of a universally accessible canoe/kayak floating dock and launch at the Lake Ridge Park Marina. Other project components include bank stabilization using a tiered system of bio-socks, a beach/soft launch area, an accessible pathway, and mile markers and other orientation signage along the water trail.
  • Inventorying Boat-in Camping: A pilot project between NPS and the Chesapeake Conservancy has developed the first inventory of exist-
    ing and potential boat-in camping sites along the Potomac River from Washington down to the Chesapeake Bay. The early analysis of this initial effort indicates that there are 8 public sites which offer boat-in campingon the Potomac although the camping areas for three of them are a good distance from the water. There are nine private sites that offer the opportunity for boat-in camping and seven others that have some potential for camping. In addition, there were nineteen public sites identified which have some potential to offer boat-in camping.

Along the Nanticoke River

  • Nanticoke River Water Trail: NPS financial assistance supports master planning, design, and engineering for a new public access facility on the Nanticoke River Water Trail in Maryland. The Nanticoke Watershed Alliance and their partners will also create a comprehensive online map and guide to provide access and safety information as well as natural and cultural resource interpretation.

Along the Susquehanna River

  • Havre de Grace: NPS financial assistance supports this project to create a waterfront heritage park on the Susquehanna River in Havre de Grace, MD, linking land and water trails from Havre de Grace, Susquehanna State Park, Port Deposit, and Perryville. Design and construction documents include public access facilities for viewing, launching canoes and kayaks, and other waterfront recreational activities.
  • Jersey Shore Borough: NPS financial assistance supports new public river access/boat launch along Front Street for access to the Susquehanna River Water Trail – West Branch. The proposed design scope includes an access road and parking, bank stabilization, directional, safety and interpretive signage, a viewing area overlooking the river, and a boat launch.
  • Chemung Basin River Trail and Headwaters River Trail: NPS financial assistance supports several inter-related water trail development initiatives. They are: 1) Construction of a new 170 foot portage trail and access point on the south side of the Chemung River in Elmira, NY, 2) A new 15-mile water trail will be established on Oaks Creek by linking one existing site with three new fishing and paddling access sites, and 3) Visitor outreach initiatives will link the developing Oaks Creek Blueway Trail with established trail segments.
  • Fort Hunter Park on the Susquehanna River Water Trail - Middle Branch: NPS financial assistance supports this project to provide two additional access points at Fort Hunter Park near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Dauphin County, in partnership with the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, will construct two non-motorized, universally accessible boat launches. These launch sites will include parking areas and pathways and will be safely separated from and augment an existing launch for motorized boats.
  • Haldeman Island Boat Launch and Water Access Project: NPS financial assistance supports enhancing an existing informal soft landing site along the Susquehanna River in Dauphin County, PA. Facilities will be upgraded to include an ADA accessible observation/fishing area, a parking area with ADA accessible parking, and a hard surface boat launch ramp.
  • Zimmerman Center for Heritage: NPS financial assistance supports construction of a floating dock, canoe/kayak access, and interpretive signage linking land and water visitors to the river, water trail, parks and hiking trails. These new facilities provide critical access and interpretive services for the Susquehanna River Water Trail.

Along the Sassafras River

  • Mount Harman Plantation: NPS financial assistance supports construction of a new public access dock, canoe and kayak soft-landing, picnic area, updated public restroom facilities, and interpretive and directional signage.

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