- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Congress is being urged to authorize a 3,000-mile historic Chesapeake water trail that would allow boaters to learn of the early discoveries of what became the United States.

Called the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Water Trail, it would be the only water trail among the 13 historic trails already established, and only the California and Lewis and Clark trails would be longer.

“Next year, our nation will commemorate the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown and the beginning of John Smith’s momentous explorations of the Chesapeake Bay,” said Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, Maryland Democrat, as he introduced the bill last week, urging Congress to authorize the trail before the session ends.

“The proposed trail is of great historical importance to all Americans in that it represents the beginning of our nation’s story,” said Mr. Sarbanes, who retires in January.

On Tuesday, Mr. Sarbanes, other lawmakers and environmentalists gathered near a replica of Smith’s boat at the Maryland Science Center in Baltimore. They expressed hopes that a study ordered last year by President Bush would be completed soon and would allow the trail plans to continue.

“It’s a great opportunity to enlarge on the emerging history of the American nation,” said Michael Shultz of the Conservation Fund Chesapeake Conference.

Upon authorization, the National Park Service is considering placing buoys around Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries where Smith and a couple dozen crew members paddled and sailed a lone 30-foot boat, called a shallop, on a pair of lengthy exploratory trips in 1608.

“Talking buoys” are envisioned to enlighten boating tourists about the waterway’s history. On land there would be historical markers tracing Smith’s travels out of Jamestown and encounters with American Indians. Jamestown was the first permanent British settlement in America.

Britain sent Smith and the first colonists to the new land in 1607 to look for a “northwest passage to the Orient” and seek understanding and maybe establish trade with the American Indians, said John Page Williams, senior naturalist at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

The explorer took detailed notes, and, with the help of the American Indians, Smith’s “maps are remarkably accurate,” Mr. Williams said.

Modern maps of Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries barely intrude into Delaware, and mainly via the Susquehana River into Pennsylvania. Smith was looking for the Northwest Passage when he went up the Susquehanna River and made friends with the influential Susquehanna Indians.

“He had an appreciation and respect for the natives,” Mr. Williams said.

About 100,000 American Indians lived in the Chesapeake Bay territory in 1600, Mr. Williams said, adding that about 16 million people live in the same area today, which largely explains the pollution in the Bay and in many tributaries and coves.

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