Almost 400 years ago, Capt. John Smith helped to document the bounty of the “faire Bay” that extended north of the Jamestown settlement. Today, leaders from around the region are hoping that rekindled attention to his voyages will help to bolster efforts to return the Bay to some of its past glory.
They are pressing the linkage on several fronts, from drawing attention to the upcoming anniversary of the Virginia colony at Jamestown, to pushing for a water trail that retraces Smith’s explorations, to incorporating lessons from Jamestown and Smith’s voyages in classroom curriculums.
“We are trying to take advantage of the people’s growing interest in the upcoming 400th anniversary of the founding of the settlement of the colony of Jamestown and the voyages of Capt. John Smith and turn that into a lifelong commitment to Chesapeake Bay watershed protection and restoration,” Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell said at the annual Executive Council meeting.
Reflecting that connection, the Council met in conjunction with a Chesapeake Bay Eduction Summit hosted by the National Geographic Society at its headquarters in Washington. D.C. The summit emphasized potential links between the Jamestown anniversary and Bay environmental education.
During the summit, National Geographic announced it was creating a “Chesapeake Bay Geography Education Fund,” with a $2 million endowment to promote geography and environmental education in schools, and unveiled a new web-based resource, “Exploring the Chesapeake: Then & Now,” which helps visitors learn about the Bay in Smith’s time, as well as the issues facing it today.
“National Geographic is going to remain committed to this tremendous resource in our backyard,” said Ford Cochran, the society’s director of online education and mission programs.
The summit culminated with the Executive Council signing a new Watershed Education Agreement making environmental outreach a priority “to achieve public awareness and personal involvement that will ultimately benefit the Chesapeake Bay and local watersheds.”
Seeking to promote a lifelong stewardship among the watershed’s nearly 16 million residents, the agreement highlights the importance of hands-on, “place-based” education in reaching audiences of all ages and promoting positive attitudes toward the Bay0000.
The agreement was signed not only by council members, but also by representatives of state school systems, other federal agencies, the Conservation Fund, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the National Geographic Society.
For the most part, it did not obligate signatories to undertake new actions, but rather committed them in writing to continue existing programs for the long term. Although the Jamestown anniversary presents an immediate opportunity, officials say the watershed education agreement is intended to drive stewardship efforts in many areas for years to come.
As another outreach opportunity, the governors pledged to help fund a National Park Service feasibility study for the proposed John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Watertrail. Park Service officials hope to complete the study in fall 2006. After that, Congress would have to act to formally create the trail, which the governors would like to see established by the 400th anniversary of Jamestown in 2007.
“We hope that people will once again perhaps view the Chesapeake Bay with the same sense of awe and wonder with which John Smith viewed it close to 400 years ago,” said Virginia Gov. Mark Warner.
The governors, along with the D.C. mayor and the chairman of the Chesapeake Bay Commission, also signed a letter to Interior Secretary Gale Norton urging the Bush administration to include $3 million in its budget request for the Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network and to support making the network a permanent program of the National Park System. The letter said the network, which includes more than 140 parks, wildlife refuges, museums and other Bay-related attractions, was a “uniquely poised” to help commemorate the 400th anniversary of the Jamestown settlement and Smith’s explorations through exhibits and programs at various sites.
“A fully funded Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network program of the National Park System will sustain the Network’s innovative approach to cooperative conservation, connecting 10 million visitors with the Chesapeake each year,” the letter said.
The administration’s budget request for 2006 included no funding for the network, though Congress ultimately approved $1.5 million. That was still a reduction from the $2.5 million provided in 2005.