- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 25, 2002

ANNAPOLIS The first permanent English colony in America was built almost four centuries ago on one of the 150 major rivers that feed into it. Today, nearly 16 million people live in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
They share space with 3,000 species of plants and animals, including Maryland's signature seafood dish, the blue crab.
Now, the National Park Service is taking a closer look at how it might play a larger role in preserving and celebrating the rich history and biodiversity of the Chesapeake Bay.
Already, the park service maintains parks in the watershed at such historic sites as Jamestown, Fort McHenry and George Washington's birthplace. Last spring, Congress commissioned a $235,000 study to examine new ways for the park service to protect the Chesapeake.
Last week, the park service held public meetings in Salisbury, Md., and Newport News, Va., to get a sense of what best represents the heritage of the Bay from those who live closest to it. This week, meetings will be held in North East, Md., and Annapolis.
Jonathan Doherty, the park service's project director for the study, said the meetings have focused on the unique challenge posed by the Bay. So many people live and work there, he said, and that makes it different from traditional national park areas in remote but gorgeous sites such as Yosemite and Yellowstone.
"It's the combination of people, nature and culture how they've interacted over time," he said. "There's been quite a bit of discussion about that, and how you might do something that celebrates and conserves and helps sustain that into the future, and not just freeze it."
Proposals on the table vary widely in scope and price. Some include establishing a historical area in a small traditional working community on the Bay, setting aside a series of islands on the open water as a preserve, or building an educational and interpretive center. However, Mr. Doherty says the plans are still "starter concepts" and could include a combination of elements.
Michael Shultz, a spokesman for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said the group is "very enthusiastic" about the idea, although he said it's too early for the environmental group to endorse any particular project.
"The more people have access to the Bay and use it, the stronger their connection, so they'll know why it needs to be protected," he said.
But one group that makes a living out on the salty Bay is voicing concerns.
"We wouldn't want to see them close any part of the Bay to make it some sort of sanctuary, because we have enough sanctuaries as it is," said Larry Simns, president of the Maryland Watermen's Association.
Mr. Doherty says the park service has worked in recent years to establish parks and monuments that celebrate a way of life without making it a museum piece. He points to the New Bedford Whaling National Historic Park in Massachusetts.
The park there encompasses several blocks of the historic downtown, where shops and businesses still function as part of a living community. The park service operates a visitor's center and museums where it researches and interprets the history of the 19th century's pre-eminent whaling port while cooperating with local government to preserve the town's character.
In the case of the Chesapeake, Mr. Doherty said he could envision a project that allowed fishing and crabbing to continue in areas that are under park protection.
"If people think that illustrating and reflecting the connection between people and place is very important, then part of that story is the way that the economy of Bay communities is tied to the Bay," he said. "And you certainly wouldn't want to do anything that would prevent the ability to sustain that relationship long into the future."
A draft of the plan will be presented at a second set of public workshops in early 2003. Going forth with the project would require legislation passed by Congress and signed by the president.

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