The Bay Program's Public Access Plan is about to roll off the presses, identifying all public and private access points on the Bay and its tributaries, as well as where additional access is needed.
Completed as part of the 1987 Bay Agreement, the plan is intended to be melded into local government development plans to help target future access sites.
The access plan consists of detailed county-level maps for all three states and the District of Columbia which identify existing public and private access sites as well as potential sites. The maps also give information helpful in locating new sites by identifying areas with shoreline erosion; wetlands; natural heritage sites with rare or endangered species; cultural resources; and existing beaches.
Maps will be available for review at local government offices, planning commissions, and at the offices of involved state and federal agencies.
A written part of the plan gives an overview for each state which identifies state agencies involved with public access issues, funding mechanisms, and guiding strategies for developing public access sites within the jurisdictions. Beyond that, the report does not address funding issues.
An earlier study found that less than 1 percent of the shoreline of the Bay, its tidal tributaries and the Susquehanna River, was in public ownership. Of the existing access sites, which number fewer than 750, about 25 percent are undeveloped and provide no public facilities.
Public access sites range from boating facilities to developed parks with beaches and picnic grounds and other facilities to bank fishing sites and natural areas.
The shortfall in the number of access sites currently needed around the Bay is "in the magnitude of hundreds," said John Davy, of the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, who chaired the committee.
Full implementation of the plan — that is, acquisition and development of an adequate number of sites — will hinge on the availability of funding.
In Virginia alone, Davy said, at least 50 new access sites were needed to address current demand — much less future needs. Davy said it cost about $300,000 to complete a fully developed boating access site on a major tidal river, though sites for 'passive' uses such as fishing may be developed for as little as $5,000 to $10,000 plus land costs.
Because of tight state budgets, the plan contains no commitments toward achieving a specified number of access sites.
Still, Davy noted, some things can be done now. Some money is available from designated sources — such as the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund — which can be tapped for park development. Also, agencies can seek to use public land not currently used for public access, such as highway rights of ways. Another possibility is seeking cooperative agreements with federal agencies which own waterfront land to allow increased access and utilization.
The plan also suggests tapping the private sector as a partial solution: "Although this plan is primarily designed for the provision of public access, sites may be developed by the private sector. Such development, where appropriate, should be encouraged."
Funding would not solve all the access problems. Having enough beaches would be difficult because the Bay doesn't have a lot of beaches to begin with, Davy noted. As a result, he said, "nice public beaches are few and far between" and will get overcrowded as the region's population grows.
"We know we have more demand for beach areas than beach areas available," Davy said.