Federal officials are conducting a $235,000 study to determine if they should establish some type of national park, monument or reserve along the Chesapeake Bay.
The National Park Service is due to complete a study in the middle of next year that examines whether there is a suitable park site along the bay's 185-mile length from the mouth of the Susquehanna River to Norfolk, Va.
Park officials say they will not evaluate or recommend a specific site, but will recommend the type of park that should be established and list sites proposed by groups and individuals. They also might recommend that no park be established.
"The Chesapeake Bay is widely recognized as a valuable asset and given that, the question is: Does it make sense to represent the bay in the national park system?" said Jonathan Doherty, project director.
The study might recommend establishing any of more than 20 different types of national park "units," which include parks, monuments, historic sites, historical parks, seashores, reserves and recreation areas.
The final report will include recommendations from individuals and community groups about possible locations. Two public meetings were held this week, and two are scheduled next week in Cecil County and Annapolis.
Doherty said the process is intended to let people who live near the bay and those who care about it decide if they want a park.
The last site added to the National Park Service's inventory of 385 properties was Minidoka Internment National Monument in Idaho, the site of a World War II Japanese internment camp. It opened Thursday.
Environmentalists say a national park could prove to be a mixed blessing. Much would depend on the park's location and size, they say.
"It's too early to say right now whether a national park is the right approach," said Michael Shultz, vice president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
Any additions to the National Park Service would require federal legislation, and the Bush White House opposes adding to the national parks.
But Doherty said that the study is the result of a 2-year-old congressional mandate and is intended to help the park service plan for the years ahead.
"I think there's a recognition of the need to think about the future, and the need for what one day may be an appropriate site that is representative of the bay," he said.
Hearings are scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Cecil Community College Conference Center in North East and for 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Maryland Hall for the Performing Arts in Annapolis.