From its headwaters in New York, to Norfolk near its mouth, Bay residents and visitors will soon have new “gateways” to the Chesapeake.

National Park Service Director Robert Stanton announced the first 23 sites — from water trails to museums to wildlife refuges — that will be part of the new Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network which highlights historic, cultural and natural aspects of the Bay and its watershed.

“We’re uncovering and polishing and beginning to string together some of the Chesapeake Bay’s most precious pearls,” said Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-MD, who has pushed the gateways concept for years. Linked together in a network, he said, the sites “will showcase the wealth of resources that make up the Chesapeake Bay.”

In addition to announcing the first sites, the Park Service — which is coordinating the network — unveiled its new Chesapeake Bay Gateways logo which could appear on signs as early as this fall.

Eventually, the Gateways Network is expected to consist of scores of sites that will be linked together by designated scenic drives, water trails and hiking paths. Maps and brochures will help residents and visitors plan trips that take in the breadth of the Bay’s diversity — or focus on a specific theme, such as history or natural resources.

The announcement was made at one of the initial gateway sites, Piscataway Park, which is on the Maryland side of the Potomac, across from Mount Vernon. The nonprofit Accokeek Foundation, which manages the site along with the Park Service, received a grant to improve waterside access at the park, particularly for canoes and kayaks which will now be able to more easily stop at the site.

Improving access to the Bay and its tributaries is an important Gateways goal. “Surveys show that people who experience the Bay become more protective of it,” Sarbanes said.

The first 23 sites received a total of $400,000 in Park Service grants for improvements ranging from the development of a water trail on the Chemung River in New York to a hiking trail along the Elizabeth River in Norfolk to improved signs and interpretive information at several other sites that will help people understand how places relate to the Bay.

President Clinton proposed another $1.25 million for grants in his budget for next year. If approved by Congress, the Park Service will begin seeking applications for another round of grants this fall. Any site that receives a grant automatically becomes part of the Gateways Network.

In addition, places that don’t need grants can become part of the network through a self-nomination process in which candidates are approved by a Gateways working group that includes representatives from state and federal agencies and nonprofit groups.

The first sites selected through the nomination process are expected to be named within a few months. Gateway sites are expected to increase tourism and present a “Bay” message to a broader audience. Last year, more than 1 million people visited the sites named to the network in June.

That number will grow as sites, such as river trails, are further developed and promoted. One grant, for example, is going to support the development of a Potomac River Water Trail by the states of Maryland and Virginia. When completed, David Brickley, director of Virginia’s Department of Conservation and Recreation, predicted the trail “is going to be used by thousands, I dare say, millions, of people.”

For information, visit the gateways web site at: www.chesapeakebay.net/gateways.htm

Initial Sites in Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network

The first 23 sites of the Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network include:

Gateway Sites & Information Centers

  • Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum [St. Michaels, MD]: With 14 historic structures along the scenic Miles River on the Bay’s Eastern Shore, the museum preserves one of the largest and most comprehensive collections of significant Chesapeake artifacts and exhibits.
  • Mathews County Visitor & Information Center [Mathews, VA]: Located in the historic Mathews district, this facility offers residents and visitors information on Bay habitats, preserves, water trails and ecotourism opportunities in the area.
  • Potomac Gateway Welcome Center [King George County, VA]: Located on U.S. Highway 301 at the foot of the Potomac River Bridge, the center offers travelers information on natural, scenic, historic and recreational resources in the Northern Neck and Middle Peninsula region.
  • Anacostia Community Park [DC]: This restoration effort by the Earth Conservation Corps involves local residents who are creating a community park along the Anacostia River, a significant Potomac tributary.
  • Barge House Museum [Annapolis, MD], The museum preserves and interprets the maritime history of the Eastport area of Annapolis, including the McNasby Oyster Company, the city’s last remaining oyster shucking house.
  • Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge [Cambridge, MD]: This 26,000-acre preserve of the classic tidal marsh of the Bay’s Eastern Shore provides habitat for vast numbers of migratory birds.
  • Dutch Gap Conservation Area [Chesterfield County, VA]: This 810-acre preserve protects historic and natural resources along the James River, including the site of Henricus, the second successful English settlement in Virginia.
  • Hoffler Creek Wildlife Preserve [Portsmouth, VA]: This 142-acre refuge of tidal wetlands and forest near the mouth of the James River and the Bay, engages area residents in habitat conservation and education.
  • Horsehead Wetlands Center [Grasonville, MD]: Covering more than 300 acres of pristine Bay marshland on the Eastern Shore, the center offers a broad range of environmental education programs focusing on the natural resources of the Bay.
  • James Mills Scottish Factor Store [Urbanna, VA]: One of only two structures of its type remaining; the store is being restored to interpret both its 18th century use as a site for exchanging colonial crops for European goods, and the area’s long economic ties with the Bay.
  • Janes Island State Park [Crisfield, MD]: The park conserves 2,900 acres of marsh, beach and uplands along Tangier Sound, with 30 miles of trails marked for canoes and kayaks.
  • Jefferson Patterson Park & Museum [St. Leonard, MD]: The park and museum preserve and interpret 544 acres along the Patuxent River, including 12,000 years of Bay archeological history and the site of the First and Second Battles of St. Leonard’s Creek, pivotal in the War of 1812.
  • The Mariners’ Museum [Newport News, VA]: Since 1933, the museum has been interpreting the history and culture of the Bay region with exhibits and education programs on 550 acres along the James River.
  • Piscataway Park [Accokeek, MD]: Managed by the Accokeek Foundation and the National Park Service, the park preserves the view across the Potomac from Mount Vernon by maintaining 4,700 acres as George Washington may have seen them, including seven miles of Potomac River shoreline.
  • Sturgis Memorial Gateway at Snow Hill [Snow Hill, MD]: This Eastern Shore gateway provides waterfront access for canoes, kayaks, fishing and river viewing along the Pocomoke River, a Bay tributary and Maryland’s first designated Scenic River.

Gateways Water & Land Trails

  • Chemung Basin River Trail [NY]: The canoe route connects public access sites along the Chemung River, a major tributary of the Susquehanna River in the upper Bay watershed;
  • Choptank & Tuckahoe Rivers Water Trail [Eastern Shore, MD]: The 60-mile canoe and kayak route links public access sites and historic and natural resources on two Bay tributaries.
  • Elizabeth River Trail - Atlantic City Spur [Norfolk, VA]: This land trail links urban neighborhoods to the Norfolk waterfront, a significant Bay harbor, with resources spanning time from historic Fort Norfolk, commissioned by George Washington, to today’s modern Navy.
  • Lower Susquehanna Water Trail [PA]: This boating route from Harrisburg’s City Island to the Pennsylvania/Maryland border, connects historic communities originally developed because of their direct or indirect connection with the Bay.
  • Monocacy River Water Trail [MD]: This community-based effort interprets natural and historic resources along a paddling route from the Monocacy Battlefield to the Monocacy Aqueduct.
  • Potomac River Water Trail [VA & MD]: This mapped boating route stretches from the mouth of the Potomac to Alexandria and links public access sites as well as historic and natural areas.
  • Rivanna River Water Trail [VA]: This paddling route provides interpretive sites along 38 miles of the Rivanna, a designated Scenic River, from Charlottesville to the confluence with the James River at Columbia.
  • West Branch Susquehanna River Water Trail [PA]: The boating route along 240 miles of the West Branch portrays the river’s history as a lumber transportation route while conserving the natural environment and adjacent historic sites.