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Plan aims to boost Bay public access

A new plan calls for increasing public access to the Chesapeake Bay by adding more than 300 new spots along the shore where people can fish, swim, put a boat in the water or just enjoy the view.

The draft "watershed public access plan" released late last week by the National Park Service lays out a blueprint for boosting by more than 25 percent the number of sites where the public can get to the bay and its tributaries.  That was one of the goals in a 2010 bay restoration strategy developed by the Obama administration.

There are 1,144 spots throughout the bay watershed now where the public can launch boats, fish, swim or view the water, according to the plan.  Of those, just 770 are on the bay proper or in tidal reaches of rivers.  With 11,684 miles of bay and tidal river shoreline, they're about 15 miles apart on average - and much more distant in some places.  Less than half can be used to launch or land boats, canoes or kayaks, the plan notes.

Working with the park service, a team of planners from the six bay states and the District of Columbia identified 316 potential new public access sites.  More than 90 percent are in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia, and more than half are on public land already.  The vast majority will require some planning, construction and maybe even further evaluation before they can be used for water acccess, the plan notes.

The plan calls for making funding of public access a priority.  With pollution cleanup projected to cost billions of dollars, providing more boat ramps might seem like a frill.  But planners and others argue that the public's willingness to pay for such a costly undertaking may well depend on how connected the public feels to the bay. So the theory goes, the more people can play on and around the estuary, the more they'll want to protect and restore its waters and fish and wildlife.

What do you think? Can the bay stand more public use?  Or will people care more for the bay - and take better care of it - if they get to know it better?

The park service is taking comment on the plan through Aug. 24. To learn more, go here.  Comment by email to ChesapeakeAccess@nps.gov

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