Hearings and Business Meetings

SD-366 Energy Committee Hearing Room 02:30 PM

Mr. Patrick Noonan

Chairman Emeritus, The Conservation Fund



Patrick F. Noonan, Chairman Emeritus of The Conservation Fund

Before the Subcommittee on National Parks


Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Watertrail Study Act of 2005 (S.336)

April 28, 2005


Mr. Chairman, and members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to testify today on S.336, the “Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Watertrail Study Act of 2005.”  I am Patrick F. Noonan, Chairman Emeritus and founder of The Conservation Fund – an organization dedicated to preserving historic, natural and working landscapes.  In addition, The Conservation Fund promotes economic development through tourism, education and community-based initiatives.

I wish to express my support for this bipartisan legislation that authorizes the National Park Service (NPS) to study the feasibility and desirability of designating the route of Captain John Smith’s voyages of exploration as a National Historic Trail.  Specifically, S.336 directs the NPS to study the voyages’ historic significance, national significance and potential for recreational use and historic interpretation.   I would like to thank Senators Sarbanes, Allen, Warner and Mikulski for their leadership and crucial support on this issue.

For over thirty years, I have worked to protect America’s great treasures, such as historic lands, wildlife refuges and parks, and working landscapes by forming partnerships among private landowners, major corporations, and state and federal agencies.  These historic treasures s include Civil War battlefields such as Antietam National Battlefield, the Flight 93 National Memorial, and sites along the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail.  The Chesapeake is particularly special to me because I am a “child of the Chesapeake” and have lived near its shores for my entire life.  I can tell you that this proposal comes from the people of the Chesapeake.  Local governments and grassroots organizations have embraced the idea of a John Smith watertrail and support the study.  Because of the historic, cultural, and economic importance of Captain John Smith’s explorations of the Chesapeake Bay I urge your support for the bill. 


Celebrating the American Dream – Captain John Smith

The year 2007 marks the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown, the first permanent American settlement, and of Captain John Smith’s arrival in the New World.  As the eve of Jamestown’s founding approaches, it is important to study the national significance of Smith’s voyages and the feasibility of establishing a water trail that celebrates his explorations.  I believe that John Smith’s voyages are on par with Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery and their exploration of interior North America.  By recognizing John Smith’s leadership, we can inspire generations of Americans and overseas visitors to follow Smith's journeys, to better understand the contributions of the Native Americans who lived within the Bay region and to learn about the roots of American democracy.

Captain John Smith’s exploration of Chesapeake Bay was a monumental historic achievement, shaping the boundaries, character and future of America.  Smith and his crew of just over a dozen men courageously traveled almost 3,000 miles along the Bay exploring a vast region from the Virginia capes to the mouth of the Susquehanna River near Pennsylvania.   He saw a Chesapeake Bay with its incredible, productive ecosystem intact and with sophisticated and diverse Native American cultures thriving along the shores of what is known today as Maryland, Virginia, Washington D.C., Pennsylvania and Delaware.  A study of the Capt. John Smith Chesapeake National Watertrail would allow us to explore the idea of celebrating Smith’s voyages that opened the door of opportunity to establish our democratic forms of government for all Americans.[1]

During his years in the Jamestown colony, Smith explored the Chesapeake Bay searching for the fabled Northwest Passage.  His exploration marked the territory, which would eventually become the State of Maryland, the Commonwealth of Virginia and the State of Delaware.  Smith's 1612 map was the first accurate depiction of the Chesapeake Bay and the native settlements present (see attached map).  For nearly a century, the map served as the definitive map of the region, including areas documented entirely with information supplied by Native Americans.  By providing accurate information, this map enabled the colonization of the East Coast by the English.

On his voyages and as President of the Jamestown Colony, Captain Smith became the point of first contact for scores of Native American leaders from around the Chesapeake.  His notes describing the indigenous people he met in the Chesapeake are still widely studied by historians, anthropologists and scientists.  The impact of Smith’s voyages on the American Indians is a critical element of the story.  Smith commonly formed partnerships with the many different tribes by building an economic relationship based on trade.  The supplies he obtained through trade with American Indians are credited with saving the Jamestown colony, during its early years.  The historic meeting between colonists and Americans Indians profoundly impacted both cultures and changed the course of history.  These early interactions between the ambassadors of both peoples were in many ways a significant prelude for events to come. 

As chronicled in his journals, Smith’s voyages in America ignited the imagination of the Old World.  He produced many books and his writing inspired hundreds, and then thousands of people to settle in the “dense woods and fertile valleys” of the Chesapeake.  His adventurous spirit, descriptive writing, and accurate mapping all serve to bolster his place in history.  A man of humble birth, he was a captivating individual that played a crucial role in our country’s history.  The watertrail provides a practical opportunity for the outdoor enthusiast as well as the historian to get a taste of his Smith’s spirit by traveling the same route he did nearly 400 years ago.

In many ways, Captain John Smith personified the chance for a better life that would become the American dream for the millions of immigrants who would later benefit from his daring.  The son of a farmer in Lincolnshire, England, Smith left his home to seek adventure and fortune in the wider world.  Although he was not part of England’s upper class, he became President of the Jamestown Colony as an agent of the London-based Virginia Company, one of the first “venture capital” enterprises.  Smith demonstrated that America was a different place, where success was achieved through hard work, not necessarily nobility.  He helped set the foundation for America’s philosophy of equality through his famous “Don’t work, don’t eat” policy.  Smith focused on skills and talents, not titles, setting an egalitarian outlook that has echoes in America to this date. 

Smith was a bold leader who defied the odds and ignited a nation.  His contemporaries gave him the credit for having supplied the firm hand and commonsense that saved the Jamestown colony during its early struggles with starvation and disease.  If not for his leadership, the colony would most likely have failed like the earlier lost colony of Roanoke.  England may have lost its claim on the New World and our history would have been vastly different.  Instead, he planted the seeds of our American democracy right here in the arms of the Chesapeake and provided inspiration to our county’s founding fathers, such as Thomas Jefferson when writing the Declaration of Independence.


Maritime Heritage, Tourism and Recreation

The Chesapeake community is very excited to celebrate the upcoming 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown and the compelling tale of Smith’s exploration of the Chesapeake and his interactions with the American Indians.  The idea for the John Smith Watertrail has built off of local enthusiasm and makes sound economic sense.  Smith is a proud part of the region’s rich maritime and cultural heritage, which includes the fleets of working boats tied up to the docks at watermen’s villages, restored 19th century skipjacks and buyboats, Native American villages, and documentation in local maritime museums.  John Smith’s waterways of history would link these features with other recreational, cultural and historic destinations providing a highly desirable tourism opportunity for the region.

The potential historic tourism opportunities that the watertrail would provide have garnered the support of the Chesapeake Bay Commission, the Chesapeake Executive Council, and economic development officers from Maryland, Virginia and various local governments.  Involving communities, non-governmental organizations, public agencies, business and private landowners in establishing the watertrail would demonstrate a new model for public-private partnerships so crucial to protecting the ecological integrity of working landscapes and the ability to experience history.

Trail Initiatives and Supporters

An expansive network of diverse organizations that support the creation of the watertrail has developed over the last few years.  For example, Sultana Projects Inc., which runs maritime education programs for students out of Chestertown, Maryland, is building a replica of John Smith’s 28-foot boat used in mapping the Bay.  In June of 2007 they will retrace Smiths journey in the boat. 

On the Eastern shore, the town of Vienna, Maryland funded a geographer at Salisbury University to research exactly where Smith voyaged on the Nanticoke River. The town of Vienna is also interested in building a John Smith Discovery Center. 

The Commonwealth of Virginia is developing the first two trail segments of the watertrail on the James and York rivers as part of the quadracentiennial celebration.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation, a regional 115,000-member grassroots environmental organization dedicated to preserving and restoring the Chesapeake Bay, is an active collaborator and supporter of a national historic watertrail.  The Foundation uses Smith's journals and descriptions of the Bay 400 years ago as the baseline for their annual State of the Bay report and in their education program.

Reflecting this excitement building for the 2007 celebration, many key officials have pledged their support, including: Governor Ehrlich of Maryland, Governor Warner of Virginia, Governor Rendell of Pennsylvania, Governor Minner of Delaware, and Mayor Williams of the District of Columbia, as well as the chair of the Chesapeake Bay Commission Michael Waugh. 

The National Geographic Society (NGS) has also recognized the historic contributions of Smith.  It is producing several Captain John Smith and Chesapeake Bay related products including an article in the upcoming June 2005 issue of National Geographic Magazine.  NGS is also creating a wall map, one side to describe the Chesapeake Bay as it is today and the opposite side to depict the John Smith trail, with Indian sites and other historic markers.  The intent is to distribute this map, supported by an educational website and other educational materials to schools in the watershed, in conjunction with Chesapeake Bay Foundation.  In 2006, an NGS publication will include guide information for boaters who want to follow Captain John Smith's routes around the entire Bay trail. 



The Chesapeake is an American treasure.  It is the cradle of our nation, and ties us to our history as a nation from Yorktown to Capitol Hill.  The Chesapeake is also a working landscape providing billions of dollars annually to the economy of the region and is cherished by the millions of people that live near its shores.  I feel that a study of the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Watertrail would find exceptional opportunities for unparallel recreation and historical tourism experiences, education, and stewardship.

S.336 recognizes the riches of the Chesapeake, just as John Smith did when referring to the Chesapeake and said "Heaven and earth never agreed better to form a more perfect place for man's habitation."  I urge your favorable consideration of this bill and would be prepared to answer any questions you may have.


Text Box: Captain John Smith's Map of Virginia
First Published, Oxford, England - 1612
Text Box: Virtual Jamestown; ©Crandall Shifflett All Right 1998


[1] For more information, see Love and Hate in Jamestown: John Smith, Pocohontas, and the Heart of a New Nation by David A. Price, published in 2003.