Interpretive signs telling visitors about the Chesapeake Bay, its history and resources popped up this spring at Fort McHenry and George Washington's Birthplace national monuments.

It was a sign of the Park Service's growing involvement in the Bay Program and the Chesapeake restoration effort. The Park Service, with more than 286,000 acres, is the third largest federal landowner in the Bay watershed - after the Department of Defense and the U.S. Forest Service.

Recognizing that, the Park Service has pledged to set an example of responsible resource stewardship on its own land and is promoting public education about the Bay within its parks. Those are some of the objectives outlined in a 1994 "Chesapeake Bay Action Agenda" adopted by the Park Service.

Since then, the Park Service has taken other actions to bolster its ties to the Bay. At an annual meeting of the superintendents who manage parks in the mid-Atlantic region, an entire day was devoted to Chesapeake Bay issues. This spring, the Park Service will station a full-time Bay coordinator at the Chesapeake Bay Program Office in Annapolis.

Other actions are taking place at National Park sites in the watershed. An interactive computer program at Catoctin Mountain Park challenges visitors to transport water from the mountains to the Bay with as little pollution as possible. Nutrient assessments have been done at Gettysburg National Battlefield, Antietam National Battlefield and the George Washington Parkway to identify ways to reduce nutrient runoff. Air- and water-quality monitoring programs are under way at some parks, while others are emphasizing the Bay's heritage through special celebrations and cultural programs.

The action agenda outlined four ways the Park Service will work to further Bay restoration goals:

  • Focusing on the Bay in National Parks: As a landowner in the Bay watershed, the Park Service pledged to set an example of responsible stewardship for activities on its land. Also, through interpretive programs, the parks can increase public awareness of Chesapeake Bay heritage and foster an ethic of conservation throughout the watershed.
  • Working on the Watershed Level: There is a need to increase public understanding of the watershed as an ecosystem reaching beyond the tidewater region and extending across state lines. By drawing on its experience in interpretation, the National Park Service will work with the Bay Program to promote public awareness of the Bay and the issues it faces. In addition, the Park Service will assist state and local partners with identifying opportunities for increased public access to the Bay.
  • Working on the Regional and State Level: The Park Service has often provided assistance for the development and implementation of statewide heritage conservation programs, statewide river assessments, regional trail networks and greenway corridors. Through this regional or sub-watershed approach, the Park Service can provide the policy-level assistance that is needed to address regional issues of resource conservation. The Park Service will also work cooperatively on inventory and monitoring, research, and mitigation measures to enhance the overall health of the Chesapeake.
  • Working on the Local Level: The Park Service helps communities conserve important resources through its Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program. The partnerships developed through these grassroots efforts have contributed to the public's awareness of the watershed, and to citizens' personal investment in the welfare of the ecosystem. By building on existing networks of conservation-oriented community groups, the RTCA Program can continue to play an important role in river conservation, and trail and greenway development on the community level.