- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 22, 2003

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (AP) — The National Park Service is studying whether the Chesapeake Bay should join the ranks of Mount Rushmore and the Grand Canyon.

The Park Service has said it is not interested in a plan to encompass the entire Bay, but to conserve a symbolic chunk of it, on land or on water, where visitors could go and experience life on the Chesapeake.

Over the past year, park officials have narrowed to five a list of options for a Chesapeake Bay national park. They include preserving an entire coastal village, where fishing or agriculture remain paramount, and protecting a segment of open waters and the aquatic life beneath them. Another option would be to do nothing, other than continue federal programs overseeing North America’s largest estuary.

Congress and the White House will have the final say. The Bush administration has publicly opposed adding sites to the national park inventory, which now stands at 388, from Civil War battlefields, to coral reefs to mountaintops.

The Park Service has been conducting public meetings this summer in Virginia and Maryland to whittle options to one preferred alternative. The top candidate then will be presented to Congress in a report expected this fall, said Skip Meehan, a park specialist working on the study.

The Park Service will hold two meetings in Virginia. There will be a public meeting from noon to 6 p.m. today at the Mariners’ Museum in Newport News. Tomorrow, from 5 to 9 p.m., a gathering is scheduled at the Yorktown Visitor Center in Yorktown.

An environmental-impact analysis, completed in June, suggests that three of the options would pose the least amount of harm. They are: preserving a working village; enhancing an existing network of “gateway” access points to the Bay; and creating an “ecological and cultural reserve” on one exemplary river, providing protection from its inland headwaters to its confluence with the Bay.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation, an environmental group with 255 offices in Virginia and Maryland, favors the first two of these options and is encouraging its members to urge the park service to pick either one.

At the same time, the foundation wants any proposal to include a national water trail, which would include maps and routes for canoeing, kayaking and boating throughout the Bay.

Foundation executives have been lobbying Congress for increased cleanup funding, arguing that the Chesapeake is as much a natural gem as the Everglades and San Francisco Bay.

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