Volume XVII, Issue 40 # October 1 - October 8, 2009

Set Sail on John Smith’s Trail

Planners ask you to help define 3,000-mile waterway and its purpose

by Ben Miller

Captain John Smith died in 1631, but his name is still tied to Chesapeake Bay.

In 2006, President George W. Bush signed the law — introduced in the U.S. Senate by Maryland’s Paul Sarbanes — that created the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail. Now, park planners are looking for your input in how the trail should evolve and grow.

Smith’s joins a long list of national historic trails stretching across the nation, from the Appalachian Trail, the spine of the eastern United States; to the Lewis and Clark Trail, running from Missouri to Oregon; to the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail, running through nine states from Georgia to southern Illinois.

The nation’s first water trail gives national recognition to the significance of Smith’s journeys. One of its purposes is to mark the nearly 3,000 miles Smith and his men traveled on the Bay and many of its rivers, including the Potomac, the Patuxent and the Nanticoke.

Visitors to the trail will learn what the Chesapeake Bay region was like in the 1600s, especially the Indian societies and the rich environment.

As people learn about and experience the Bay, they will want to pitch in to preserve and restore it. This is the idea behind the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail.

Management of the Trail

The trail is managed by the National Park Service through the Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Watertrails Network, part of the Chesapeake Bay Program headquartered in Annapolis. The network highlights 150 visitable sites in the Bay watershed, which stretches as far north as New York and as far west as West Virginia.

Neither the Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Watertrails Network nor the Captain John Smith National Historic Trail owns much property. Both link and interpret federal, state, local, tribal and private parks, museums and docks connected with their stories. The John Smith Trail, of course, has a unified, dramatic narrative to follow — though already 500 entrance points have been identified.

The Cost

The cost of the trail in federal funds, based on a Congressional Budget Office estimate, is $2 million from 2007 to 2011. This includes $400,000 for planning and $500,000 a year for maintenance plus presenting the story and developing points of entrance into places you might want to visit.

The Workshops

How will the trail be run? That’s still open for comment.

In October, the National Park Service will hold eight workshops in Virginia, Maryland, Delaware and Washington, D.C., to find out what people think.

Will little be done aside from naming the trail? Will there be federal land acquisition and preservation of landscapes? Will additional visitor centers be built? Will there be more access to the water? Will the stories emphasize Smith’s voyages or the Chesapeake region in the 1600s? Will the trail be devoted primarily to recreation?

Annapolis Workshop

The Annapolis workshop is October 14, 6-8pm, at the Annapolis Maritime Museum, 723 Second St., Eastport.

For the complete list of workshops and the ideas being considered, check out www.smithtrail.net. Look for Public Planning Workshops. Then click management alternatives.