Between 2010 and 2017, 153 boat ramps, fishing piers and other public access sites were opened on and around the Chesapeake Bay. This marks a 51 percent achievement of the goal to add 300 new access sites to the watershed by 2025 and brings the total number of access sites in the region to 1,292.

Interactive Chart

Public Access Sites in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed (Cumulative) (2010-2017)

Interactive Map

Public Access Site Ownership in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed (2009-2017)

Public access sites are those places owned, operated and/or managed by federal, state or local government agencies or nongovernmental organizations working under an agreement with a government agency for the express purpose of providing people with direct access to the water. Because the successful development of an access site requires a suitable location, a site manager and a source of funding, the number of access sites opened each year is expected to fluctuate. Our partners hope to open an average of 20 sites each year until this outcome is achieved.

Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania have seen the biggest increases in access sites over the past seven years: 46 percent of the access sites opened between 2010 and 2017 are located in Virginia, while 25 percent are located in Maryland and 18 percent are located in Pennsylvania. This is not surprising, as the bulk of the Chesapeake Bay watershed—as well as existing access sites and opportunities for new access sites—lies within these states. There are currently seven public access sites in Delaware, 24 in the District of Columbia, 39 in New York, 46 in West Virginia, 209 in Pennsylvania, 357 in Virginia and 610 in Maryland.

Public access to open space and waterways can improve public health and quality of life. People rely on outdoor places to exercise, relax and recharge their spirits. Time spent outdoors can strengthen family bonds and nurture active, creative children. And access to the water can build personal connections with places that have shaped life in the region, boosting tourism economies and creating citizen stewards who care for local resources and engage in conservation efforts.

Management Strategy

To achieve this outcome, Chesapeake Bay Program partners have committed to:

  • Tracking progress toward this outcome;
  • Making public funding for public access a priority;
  • Working with private sector funders to develop access sites;
  • Assessing urban access issues and needs;
  • Addressing accessibility issues and needs;
  • Enhancing public access for a diverse population and ensuring all watershed residents have reasonable access to the water;
  • Conducting more detailed assessments of and designs for potential access sites;
  • Incorporating proposed access sites into state and local outdoor recreation and open space plans;
  • Establishing a process that will ensure public access is considered in the planning of all appropriate transportation projects (e.g., road work across or adjacent to streams or rivers);
  • Preventing the loss of access on public rights-of-way;
  • Exploring options for resolving railroad crossing liability;
  • Engaging in hydropower relicensing processes to expand public access;
  • Exploring the potential for additional access on public lands;
  • Managing land control for water access using various land acquisition techniques;
  • Filling gaps in public access along recognized water trails and developing access sites to support boat-in primitive camping along these trails;
  • Determining how site planning and development can be adapted to address the impacts of climate change; and
  • Building opportunities for the citizen stewardship and maintenance of access sites.

These partners will also collaborate with the work being done to achieve the Citizen Stewardship, Diversity, Climate Adaptation and Climate Monitoring and Assessment outcomes.

Monitoring and assessing progress toward the outcome will occur through the annual tracking of new public access sites, which can include the development of a new boating, swimming, fishing, or water or wildlife viewing access facility on a new site or the development of a new type of access facility on an existing site.

As part of the Chesapeake Bay Program’s partnership-wide implementation of adaptive management, progress toward this outcome was reviewed and discussed by the Management Board in November of 2017.

Work Plan

Chesapeake Bay Program partners have committed to taking a series of specific actions that will support the management approaches listed above.

Completed actions from this outcome's work plan include:

  • In 2016 and 2017, the Public Access Action Team updated its annual inventory of new public access sites in the Chesapeake Bay watershed with 24 sites opened in 2016 and 21 sites opened in 2017. Four of these 45 sites expanded boat-in primitive campsites along recognized water trails. A number of state agencies provided technical assistance to local governments and nongovernmental organizations in the provision of new public access sites.
  • In 2016 and 2017, Youth Conservation Corps members enhanced water access by developing boat-in primitive campsites, clearing viewsheds and building water-view trails.
  • In 2016 and 2017, all National Park Service Chesapeake Bay financial assistance awards for public access included appropriate accessibility requirements. The office funded six public access projects during this time.
  • By the end of 2017, all watershed states had established processes to allow their transportation departments to explore public access site provisions for those projects that are over or adjacent to water bodies with potential recreational access.
  • In 2017, more than 300 students participated in the Wilderness Inquiry Canoemobile program and paddled in a voyager canoe on the Susquehanna River. For many students, this marked their first paddling experience on a river. Almost all of the students came from Title I schools, or schools with high numbers or high percentages of children from low-income families.

Participating Partners

The Fostering Stewardship Goal Implementation Team leads the effort to achieve this outcome. It works in partnership with the Healthy Watersheds Goal Implementation Team.

Participating partners include:

  • State of Delaware
  • State of Maryland
  • State of New York
  • Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
  • Commonwealth of Virginia
  • State of West Virginia
  • District of Columbia
  • Chesapeake Bay Commission
  • National Park Service
  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service