Back to the Water on the Captain John Smith National Historic Trail
The Chesapeake Bay is not any old park. When is the last time you saw a park that was entirely on the water?
When John Maounis started work as superintendent at the National Park Service Chesapeake Bay office seven years ago, he had never seen such a thing either. His job was to find the best way for the National Park Service to be a part of Bay protection.
Maounis was no stranger to parks. He’d worked at parks and historic sites across the country, including the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, the Thomas Edison National Historic Park in New Jersey and the Frederick Law Olmstead National Historic Site in Massachusetts. But now he had a real challenge.
People from all over the nation and world come to the Chesapeake to experience nature: The sulfur smell during a marsh’s low tide; osprey dancing through the sky and diving for fish; blue crabs scuttling along the soft seafloor and along oyster reefs; old cypress swamps watching the flow of time. Close as the Chesapeake is to big major cities, it remains a place you can feel away from it all.
One goal for the Park Service was to bring people out on the water and into the natural world.
The Chesapeake is also rich with culture and history, and that was Maounis’ expertise.
“Most of my career has been involved with cultural values and cultural resources, and that is something we bring here: people, heritage, recreation; the sense that there are many values to the Chesapeake,” he said.
The Chesapeake Bay has seen hundreds of years of American Indian history; the voyage of Captain John Smith; the origins of the Underground Railroad; and the rise and fall of the oyster fishery. Its story encompasses the stories of the many who came before us here, shaping the Bay.
History and culture came to Maounis’ rescue in his Chesapeake assignment. His time at the Chesapeake Bay Office overlapped the quadricentennial of Captain John Smith’s voyages in the early 1600s,.
How could the National Park Service celebrate the Chesapeake’s iconic landscapes, meaningful history, and deep culture?
Through a National Trail.
But the Chesapeake is a Bay — so it had to be a water trail.
Thus, the nation’s first entirely aquatic National Historic Trail was designated — the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail — but not before a huge effort by the National Park Service and partners to find the support and stories.
Maounis, his staff and partner organizations embarked on a large-scale support-raising campaign — visiting places throughout the watershed that had stories to share; making connections with communities and individuals waiting to have their stories told; and finding ways to tie these all together into a cohesive tale.
That tale includes the Bay, its rivers, river corridors, its history, culture, and landscapes.
“This effort is not limited to wagon-ruts,” Maounis says. You get a real sense of history and heritage that is broader and, therefore, richer and more meaningful than just the places these people went.”
Along with the trail has come a greater effor to conserve landscape, create a community of stewardship and engage young people.
Looking back, Maounis sees he has helped create an identity for the National Park Service in the Chesapeake. The Service is able to bring groups together to celebrate, share, and protect the many values embodied within the Chesapeake: “And that means preserving stories, preserving places, preserving heritage,” he says.
As he prepared to retire, Maounis gazed out a window onto the Severn River. He called these years his “most rewarding because of the place, because of the partners and because of the evolving momentum.”
Here the trail Captain John Smith broke and John Maounis marked continues to grow and capture new audiences with new geotrails, apps, public access point, connecting trails and stories to be told and discovered.