National Park Service Developing Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Water Trail

Major Step in Efforts to Nationally Recognize Smith's Exploration of Chesapeake Bay

Senators Paul S. Sarbanes (D-MD) and John Warner (R-VA) today announced that the National Park Service Advisory Board has given unanimous approval to a "Statement of National Historical Significance" for the proposed Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Water Trail. The two Senators have been the leaders in the effort to create what will be the first national water trail.

The two Senators led efforts last year to enact legislation directing the National Park Service to study the feasibility of this historic designation. To qualify for the designation as a National Historic Trail, a trail must meet three criteria: it must be nationally significant, have a documented route through maps or journals, and provide recreational opportunities. The approval by the Advisory Board passes one of these three key tests.

Captain John Smith was one of America's earliest explorers. His role in the founding of Jamestown, Virginia – the first permanent English settlement in North America – and in exploring the Chesapeake Bay region during the years 1607 to 1609 marks a defining period in the history of our Nation. His contemporaries and historians alike credit Smith's strong leadership with ensuring the survival of the fledgling colony and laying the foundation for the future establishment of our Nation.

With a dozen men in a 30-foot open boat, Smith's expeditions in search of food for the new colony and the fabled Northwest Passage took him nearly 3,000 miles around the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries from the Virginia capes to the mouth of the Susquehanna. On his voyages and as President of the Jamestown Colony, Captain Smith became the first point of contact for scores of Native American leaders from around the Bay region. His relationship with Pocahontas is now an important part of American folklore. Smith's notes describing the indigenous people he met and the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem are still widely studied by historians, environmental scientists, and anthropologists.

The Advisory Board noted that the proposed water trail has historical significance because of its impact on the exploration and settlement of North America; its effect on the Native American population; and on the impact of commerce and trade throughout North America.

"This is a very welcome major step in our efforts to establish the Nation's first National Historic Watertrail which will recognize the historical significance of the travels of Captain John Smith,” said Sarbanes. "It will help provide rich opportunities for education, recreation and heritage tourism and will highlight the Bay's remarkable maritime history, its unique watermen and their culture, the diversity of its peoples, its historical settlements, and our on-going efforts to restore and sustain the world's most productive estuary."

"As we prepare to celebrate the 400th Anniversary of the first permanent English settlement in North America, and, with it, the earliest foundations of our republic, it is fitting that we recognize Captain John Smith through this watertrail," added Warner. "Ultimately, this trail will allow for a deeper appreciation of the Chesapeake, and for a greater understanding of our remarkable American heritage."

Sarbanes and Warner plan to introduce legislation to formally create the "Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Watertrail."

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