The island where settlers first set foot in Maryland, and a museum that highlights the lives of watermen on another island are among the newest members of the Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network.

With the addition of three new sites, the network has grown to 26 Bay-related places that tell a portion of the Chesapeake Bay’s natural, historical and cultural saga. And, more are on the way: Nominations for additional Gateways are being reviewed, and the National Park Service, which coordinates the network, has announced a new round of grants for program participants.

Besides adding new sites, the Gateways Network has also launched a web site that offers information about, and directions to, all the sites participating in the network.

The Gateways Network, launched by the Park Service last summer, is a linked system of museums, wildlife refuges, parks and other sites that highlight different aspects of the Bay and its watershed. The goal of the network is to increase tourism and expose a broader audience to a “Bay” conservation message.

The three new Gateway sites will expose visitors to a mix of the Bay’s cultural and ecological legacy.

“These new Gateways show the diversity of the Chesapeake story — the first English settlement in Maryland, natural beauty along the Rappahannock and the life of an island waterman community,” said Jonathan Doherty, the Gateways Network Manager for the Park Service. “We’re pleased to have these sites contribute to the Gateways Network’s growth.”

The new Gateways sites include:

  • The Smith Island Center, Somerset County, MD. The museum is located in Ewell, MD, on Smith Island, a working waterman’s community that was settled in the 1600s. The family names of many original settlers are still seen on mailboxes throughout the island today. The center features a 19-minute film, “Land and Water, People and Time.” Exhibits teach visitors about life on the island over time, working on the water and the role of the church in the community. More than 3,000 people a year visit the museum.
  • St. Clement’s Island-Potomac River Museum, St. Mary’s County, MD. St. Clement’s Island is where the first Maryland colonists set foot in 1634, and the site appears today much the way it did then. The museum, on the mainland, tells the story of the adventurers who made their way to the island, how they began carving a colony out of the wilderness — and the lasting impacts they had on the environment. It includes models of the Ark of London and the Dove, the ships that brought Maryland’s first settlers from England. The island, which offers hiking trails, exhibits and picnic facilities, is accessible only by boat, although the museum offers group tours by prior arrangement.
  • Belle Isle State Park, Lancaster County, VA. The 740-acre park on the banks of the Rappahannock River contains wetlands, forests, grasslands and more than six miles of shoreline bounded by two sizable creeks, all of which can be explored by hikers. Many Native American artifacts have been found at the site, and future plans call for a visitor’s center and Powhatan interpretive village. Programs emphasize both the area’s natural and cultural history. A boat ramp allows canoes and kayaks to explore the park by water. Rentals are also available.

The Gateways Network has been accepting nominations from places interested in joining, and expects to announce new sites each month. Nominations are reviewed by a Gateways Network Working Group, which includes representatives from the Park Service, other state and federal agencies, and nonprofit organizations.

“With new Gateways being nominated each month, the network is becoming an increasingly useful tool for learning about and enjoying special places in the Chesapeake watershed,” Doherty said.

It’s anticipated the network will grow to about 100 sites by summer. At that point, it will trigger the production of brochures, maps and other materials that promote the network.

Also, the Gateways Network is accepting grant applications through Feb. 28 for interpretation, access, or conservation and restoration projects. Places must be a member of the network, or have a nomination pending, to be eligible for the grants, which range from $5,000 to $45,000. Congress gave the Park Service $800,000 for the Gateways program this year.

Information about the grants — as well as information about the Gateways Network as a whole — is available on the network’s web site, www.baygateways.net