After the settlement of Jamestown in 1607, Capt. John Smith undertook a series of voyages that covered more than 3,000 miles as he explored the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.

Sailing with a dozen men in a 30-foot open boat, Smith scouted shorelines that had been seen by few—if any—European eyes up to that time.

With the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown approaching, Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-MD, introduced legislation to designate Smith’s route as a National Historic Trail, to be administered by the National Park Service. The system includes 13 other historic trails, including the Pony Express, Lewis and Clark, and Trail of Tears.

The legislation, if approved by Congress, would direct the Park Service to conduct a feasibility study to establish a Capt. John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Water Trail that would retrace Smith’s routes of exploration, and allow modern explorers to learn about Native American settlements, as well as the culture and natural history of the Bay region. It would be the first water trail in the system, which is overseen by the National Park Service.

To be designated a National Historic Trail, a route must meet three criteria: it must be nationally significant, have a documented route through maps or journals, and provide for recreational opportunities.

Sarbanes said the John Smith trail meets all three criteria. Smith’s voyages helped to launch the English explorations of North America, his maps were the most definitive of the Chesapeake for nearly a century, and the water trail would spur people to explore the Bay in kayaks, canoes and small boats.

“This new historic water trail will inspire generations of Americans and visitors to follow Smith’s journeys, to learn about the roots of our nation and to better understand the contributions of the Native American who lived within the Bay region,” Sarbanes said.

Joining Sarbanes in sponsoring the legislation were Sens. John Warner, R-VA, Barbara Mikulski, D-MD, and George Allen, R-VA. The idea for the trail was developed by Pat Noonan, chairman emeritus of The Conservation Fund. The legislation is backed by the National Geographic Society, the Chesapeake Bay Commission and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.