Recent Progress: Increase
In 2021, 31 new public access sites were added. This brings the total to 237 public access sites that have opened on and around the Chesapeake Bay between 2010 and 2021, marking 79% achievement of the partnership’s goal to add 300 new access sites to the watershed by 2025. In 2021, of the 31 new sites, 25 are in Virginia, three are in Maryland, one is in Pennsylvania, one is in the District of Columbia, and one is in New York.
Outlook: On Course
The Public Access Outcome is on course and is expected to be met by 2025. It was determined during the 2010 baseline year that an average of 20 new sites had to be added annually to meet the partnership’s goal of 300 new access sites by 2025. Between 2011 and 2021, partners have exceeded this target and have opened an average of approximately 21 sites per year. With 237 new sites, only 16 new sites are now needed each year to meet the 2025 goal. Thus, the long-term data trend, to date, has been positive and in excess of the 20 sites needed per year. However, based on the opportunistic nature of public access site development, the lack of dependable funding for new access projects and the trends of public access development from the past decade, variation between the numbers of additional sites developed each year is anticipated and past trends may not predict future trajectory.
Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania have seen the biggest increases in access sites over the past ten years. 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. In total there are 1,376 public access sites across the region. There are currently 637 public access sites in Maryland, 405 in Virginia, 215 in Pennsylvania, 46 in West Virginia, 40 in New York, 25 in the District of Columbia, and eight in Delaware.
In addition to meeting the goal of 300 sites by 2025, our partners will focus on improving the quality of new public access sites. Where feasible, they are ensuring that there are ample parking spaces, amenities and multilingual signs to meet the needs of diverse communities. Efforts will also be aimed at adding new access opportunities at existing sites to take advantage of existing infrastructure. In 2021, states focused on paddle craft launches, which tend to be more affordable to construct compared to motorized launches.
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 stewards who care for local resources and engage in conservation efforts. To find a public access site near you, visit ChesapeakeBay.net's Public Access Search Tool.
To achieve this outcome, Chesapeake Bay Program partners have committed to:
- Tracking progress toward this outcome;
- Making public funding for public access a priority;
- 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;
- Preventing the loss of access on public rights-of-way;
- 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 community stewardship and maintenance of access sites.
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 February of 2022. It will be reviewed and discussed by the Management Board again in February 2024.
Logic & Action 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 Logic & Action Plan include:
- In 2021, the Public Access Action Team updated its annual inventory of new public access sites in the Chesapeake Bay watershed with 12 sites opened in 2020. A number of state agencies provided technical assistance to local governments and nongovernmental organizations in the provision of new public access sites.
- In 2018, more than 350 students participated in the Wilderness Inquiry Canoemobile program in a voyager canoe on the Susquehanna River. For some 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.
- 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 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. Interpretive signage was included in some of these public access sites.
The Fostering Chesapeake 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
- U.S. Department of Defense