People following in Capt. John Smith's wake should be immersed as much as possible in the landscapes and cultural heritage that the explorer found as he traveled the Chesapeake four centuries ago, a new National Park Service plan recommends.
After a review of management choices for the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail, the park service has selected the option that provides the most sweeping vision for the trail's future.
The preferred option not only develops guides and access points to the trail, but would actively work to preserve landscapes "evocative" of Smith's journey and tell the story of the American Indian cultures Smith found during his explorations of the Bay and its tributaries in 1607 and 1608.
"The promise of the trail is to help the millions of people in the Chesapeake region to experience, understand and care to protect the natural beauty and resources of the Bay," said John Maounis, superintendent of the trail.
The option was selected based on the findings of a park service planning team and comments received during the planning process. The recommendation will be available for public review from Oct. 6 through Nov. 5.
Congress and former President George W. Bush established the trail on Dec. 19, 2006, making it the first national water trail. The management plan outlines how the park service will develop the trail over the next 20 years.
It envisions a trail where travelers could stop at sites that mark significant landscapes and historic sites that were visited by Smith or were used by American Indians at the time, as well as cultural sites that are significant to modern American Indians.
Many of those sites, which include existing members of the Park Service's Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network, state parks, federal lands, wildlife refuges and others, would have educational displays, living history exhibitions and programs to enhance visitor experiences.
Although initially proposed as a water trail, the plan also calls for people to be able to travel a network of designated hiking, biking and auto trails or other land routes that would connect sites along the trail.
It envisions a "greatly expanded" network of public access sites at federal, state and local parks and refuges, as well as private conservation lands. Access sites could include boat launches, pull-offs with trail views, paths to the water and day use facilities for recreational opportunities such as fishing and picnicking. Backcountry camping sites would be established, allowing paddlers to have multi-day trail experiences.
The plan also calls for two interpretation and education centers and five visitor contact stations where people would get an overview of the trail and be introduced to the story of John Smith's explorations and the Bay as it appeared in the early 1600s.
These would be located at existing Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network facilities, and would also provide orientation services for the new Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail and the Washington Rochambeau Revolutionary Route National Historic Trail.
The preferred management option differs from others that were considered in that it takes a more expansive view of the trail. Rather than focusing narrowly on the water trail and recreation, it also emphasizes the protection of 17th century American Indian resources and "viewsheds" that would appear as close as possible to what Smith would have seen.
The plan calls for a land preservation agenda to be developed in partnership with federal, state and local government agencies, nonprofit organizations, American Indian communities and private property owners. It envisions that most protected land would be owned by others.
The recently created nonprofit Chesapeake Conservancy would be the primary trailwide park service partner to assist with trail development through advocacy, fund-raising, land protection, working with landowners, awareness building and other functions.
Unless comments require revisions, the park service will finalize and begin implementing the plan. The pace of action will depend in large part on the availability of funding from Congress.
The draft plan can be downloaded at the trail's planning website: http://parkplanning.nps.gov/cajo.