Legislation that would link the Chesapeake Bay with points of historical and cultural significance that are spread through its six-state watershed was recently introduced in Congress.

The Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Watertrails Act would create a network of scenic drives, byways and canoe trails that link the region's settlement, cultural development and natural history to the Bay.

"Imagine a series of selected Chesapeake Bay natural, historic, cultural and recreational sites from the Susquehanna River in the north, to historic Williamsburg, Va., in the south, and unique locations along the way throughout Maryland - from Annapolis to Solomons to Point Lookout and from Havre de Grace to Cambridge to Crisfield," said Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-Md., who introduced the legislation in the Senate.

"These sites of historic seaports, federal and state parks, trails, tour roads and scenic byways could be the dots to connect in creating a magnificent string of pearls of the Chesapeake Bay's treasures," he said.

The legislation directs the National Park Service to identify, conserve, restore and interpret important resources within the watershed that could be designated as "Chesapeake Bay Gateways."

Eventually, the legislation envisions a watershedwide network of gateway sites that could be connected by designated auto tours along scenic drives, byways and hiking trails. In addition, it calls for establishing a system of "Chesapeake Bay watertrails" consisting of important water routes that would link gateway sites and other land resources.

Gateway sites would incorporate educational information about the Bay and its watershed, and in many cases will improve public access to the Bay.

Sarbanes said the watershed contains many "distinctive treasures that combine to tell a unique story about the evolvement of human settlement and culture within the area." While those sites are often well known to local residents - and many attract people from outside the watershed - visitors often learn little about the Bay's collective cultural and natural history, and even even less about the Bay cleanup efforts.

"What we currently lack - and what this measure provides - is a mechanism that links these many valuable resources and sites throughout the watershed into a unified network of jewels of the Chesapeake," Sarbanes said. "This shared linkage and identity can improve access to the Bay and further educate residents and visitors alike about this treasured resource."

The legislation also would provide technical assistance and grants to help local governments, nonprofit organizations and the private sector preserve gateway sites throughout the watershed. The legislation calls for spending $3million a year to establish the gateways network and for the grants program.

The Senate bill is co-sponsored by Sens. Chuck Robb, D-Va., Rick Santorum, R-Pa., and Barbara Mikulski, D-Md.

Similar legislation is being developed in the House by Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, R-Md. and Rep. Benjamin Cardin, D-Md.