On the road: Roving Ranger brings Chesapeake Trail to you

A National Park Service ranger helps visitors learn about the Chesapeake Trail during the debut of the Roving Ranger at Mallows Bay on April 22. (?Peter Turcik, Chesapeake Conservancy)

The food truck phenomenon is all the rage. Now, those popular and convenient vehicles have led to the “Roving Ranger” — a new way to spread the word about outdoor fun in the Chesapeake Bay region.

The Roving Ranger is a mobile visitor center inspired by food trucks and created by the National Park Service Chesapeake Bay Office and the Chesapeake Conservancy. The size of a delivery truck with large scenes of the Chesapeake Bay on all sides, it’s a one-stop shop where you can learn about places to go and things to do on the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail — and collect the much sought-after “passport” stamp from the Park Service.

The Chesapeake Trail is, in a sense, a national park in our collective backyard. It comprises much of the Chesapeake region, as beautiful and precious to our nation as the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone or Yosemite. The Roving Ranger will help more people discover outdoor activities along the trail, such as hiking, paddling and fishing, as well as sites that allow visitors to immerse themselves in the history of the land and its people over the course of many thousand years.

The Roving Ranger debuted April 22 during an Earth Day event at Mallows Bay on the Potomac. It was the first of many occasions when rangers and Conservancy staff meet people where they are and share information about nature, conservation and recreation, both close to home and farther away, just waiting to be explored. Interactive exhibits will be added to the Ranger soon.

In the long run, we hope to reach diverse communities, fostering a sense of stewardship and a desire to take care of the natural, historical and cultural resources that make the region unique.

In my work to help establish the Chesapeake Trail, I put 80,000 miles on my car traveling to every historical society, garden club, mayor and county commissioner I could reach to talk about the wonder of the Chesapeake’s history, scenery and wildlife. Now, the beautifully designed Roving Ranger will provide widespread exposure for the trail, just by traveling to a variety of locations.

I hope that the Ranger will also raise awareness for the trail’s environmental and economic benefits. Outdoor recreation is a huge boost to our economy. The Outdoor Industry Association reports that in Maryland, where the Chesapeake Conservancy is headquartered, outdoor recreation generates $9.5 billion in consumer spending, 85,000 direct Maryland jobs, $2.8 billion in wages and salaries and $686 million in state and local tax revenue. Virginia’s statistics are even more impressive.

The U.S. Department of the Interior reports that, in 2016, 6.7 million park visitors spent an estimated $234.6 million in local areas while visiting National Park Service lands in Maryland. These expenditures supported a total of 3,300 jobs, $119.3 million in labor income, $193.2 million in value added and $309.7 million in economic output for the Maryland economy. Just imagine how these activities impact is the entire Bay region.

The Chesapeake Conservancy is grateful to be partnering with the National Park Service on the Roving Ranger. Together, we are bringing the Chesapeake Trail to people in their own backyards and inspiring them to explore nearby portions of the trail, as well as offerings in other parts of the region. When people are able to experience the Chesapeake, they fall in love with it. They want to protect it. They donate their time and money to conservation initiatives to restore the health of the Bay. And they may even dedicate their careers to this worthwhile endeavor.

I hope you’ll keep an eye out for the Roving Ranger, which will be appearing at parks, festivals and other events across the Chesapeake region, such as the Sultana’s Downrigging Weekend — a tall ship and wooden boat festival — on Oct. 28. Ask our rangers and Conservancy staff about what the Chesapeake Trail has to offer and where you can access it. See you on the trail!

Joel Dunn is president and CEO of the Chesapeake Conservancy.

The views expressed by columnists are not necessarily those of the Bay Journal.

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