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
of the
Committee on Energy and Natural Resources  
S. 2568, The Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail Designation Act of 2006

May 16, 2006

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to testify today in support of S.2568, the “Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail Designation Act of 2006.”  I am Patrick F. Noonan, Chairman Emeritus and founder of The Conservation Fund – a national organization dedicated to conserving historic, natural and working landscapes and to promoting sustainable economic development through tourism, education and community-based initiatives.

I am accompanied by my good friend and colleague, Mr. Gilbert Grosvenor, the Chairman of the Board of the National Geographic Society.  Gil Grosvenor and I have worked closely together to educate the public about the importance of Captain John Smith’s voyages and the splendors of Chesapeake Bay.  Mr. Chairman, in the interest of time, I ask consent to include Mr. Grosvenor’s statement in the record. 
We also wish to thank Senator Sarbanes for his leadership role in introducing this bipartisan bill with the outstanding support of Senator Allen and Senator Warner.  The bill is co-sponsored by Senator Mikulski, Senator Biden, Senator Carper, Senator Santorum and Senator Specter, a testament to their recognition of our nation’s rich history and the importance of commemorating the 400th anniversary of the establishment of Jamestown and Captain John Smith’s voyages.     

 We strongly support S. 2568, a bill to amend the National Trails System Act to designate Captain Smith’s routes of travel as the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail.  By establishing a new National Historic Trail, the bill would designate Smith’s historic routes of travel as nationally significant.  These routes of travel extend for approximately 3,000 miles in the Chesapeake Bay and along portions of the Bay’s major tributaries in the states of Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware. 

For over thirty years, I have worked to protect America’s great treasures, such as Civil War battlefields, by forming partnerships with private landowners, major corporations, and state and federal agencies.  The Chesapeake region is particularly special to Gil and me because we are “children of the Chesapeake” and have lived near its shores for our entire lives.

The proposed Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail comes from the people of the Chesapeake.  After the hearing before this Subcommittee last year, we have seen a tremendous outpouring of support for establishing the trail, from state and local governments, Indian tribes, businesses, chambers of commerce, tourism leaders, non-profit organizations, landowners, educational institutions and individual citizens.  We are pleased that the proposed trail enjoys the support of the governors of Maryland, Virginia, Delaware and Pennsylvania as well as the Virginia Council on Indians and the Nanticoke Indians.  Mr. Chairman, I ask unanimous consent that a list of supporters be included in the record. 

The completion of a replica of Captain John Smith’s 30-foot boat, a shallop, earlier this year has heightened this level of public support and stirred the imagination of the general public about Smith’s voyages.  We are pleased that the shallop will be on display here in Washington, D.C. at the National Geographic Society later this year.  We anticipate that the public’s enthusiasm for telling this important story will only grow in advance of next year’s commemoration of the important events that took place in the Bay nearly 400 years ago. 

In carrying out the Congressionally-authorized study of the proposed trail, the National Park System Advisory Board recently found that Smith’s voyages are nationally significant, a key step in the process to establish the trail.  The Board concurred in the findings of the National Park Service and National Landmarks Committee that Smith’s routes of travel are nationally significant with respect to several broad themes in our nation’s history including ethnic heritage (Native Americans), exploration and settlement, and trade and commerce.  Because of the historic, cultural, and economic importance of Captain John Smith’s explorations of the Chesapeake Bay and the public’s demand for information on Smith’s voyages, we respectfully request that Congress pass the bill to establish the trail this year.

Bringing American History and Imagination to Life

As you know, 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.  Captain John Smith - sailor, soldier, explorer, and colonial leader - played a crucial role in establishing the roots of our nation’s rich maritime heritage when he explored the Chesapeake Bay in a shallop.  Smith saved the hour at America’s birth and served as indefatigable leader who, with the assistance and forbearance of the Native Americans, turned fate by keeping Jamestown afloat.

As the eve of the quadricentennial of Jamestown’s founding approaches, it is important to commemorate the national significance of Smith’s voyages, which are on par with Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery and their exploration of the nation’s interior.  The proposed trail will recognize John Smith’s leadership and inspire generations of Americans and overseas visitors to follow Smith's journeys, gain a better understanding of the contributions of the Native Americans and to learn about the roots of American democracy.

Captain John Smith’s exploration of Chesapeake Bay was a monumental and 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 lower Susquehanna River near Pennsylvania.  

Smith 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. 

Smith's famous 1612 map was the first accurate depiction of the Chesapeake Bay and the native settlements present.  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 British North America.  Smith’s voyages also opened the door of opportunity to establish our democratic forms of government for all Americans

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 Native Americans 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 proposed National Historic Trail provides a practical opportunity for the outdoor enthusiast as well as the historian to get a taste of 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, which was funded by the London based Virginia Company, one of North America’s first “venture capital” enterprises.  Smith demonstrated that America was a different place, where success was achieved through hard work, not necessarily noble birth.  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 common sense 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.
In 1804, in his book on The Life of George Washington, Chief Justice John Marshall wrote of Captain Smith "[w]hen we consider that he sailed above three thousand miles in an open boat; when we contemplate the dangers, and the hardships he encountered, and the fortitude, courage and patience with which he met them; when we reflect on the useful and important additions which he made to the stock of knowledge respecting America, then possessed by his countrymen; we shall not hesitate to say that few voyages of discovery, undertaken at any time, reflect more honor on those engaged in them, than this does on Captain Smith."

Maritime Heritage, Tourism and Recreation

In addition to commemorating Smith’s voyages, the proposed trail offers tremendous economic opportunities through heritage tourism, such as: trail outfitting and guide services, motor coach tours, food, lodging and maritime commerce.  By establishing the trail, S. 2568 would provide an excellent opportunity for the public to learn about Native American history, early English settlement, as well as the Chesapeake Bay’s natural resources.  The trail could promote public education through: trail maps and guide books, classroom and field experiences, museum and website exhibits, and interpretive buoys.

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 Chesapeake Bay Commission, the Chesapeake Executive Council, and economic development officers, chambers of commerce and local governments have recognized the potential historic tourism opportunities of the trail.  Involving volunteer communities, non-governmental organizations, public agencies, business and private landowners in the planning and operation of the trail will make the trail a new model for public-private partnerships so crucial to protecting the ecological integrity of working waterways and the ability to experience history.


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 the nation’s capital.  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.  Through the bipartisan leadership of the Maryland, Virginia, Delaware, and Pennsylvania Congressional delegation, the establishment of the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail would create exceptional opportunities for recreation and historical tourism experiences, education and stewardship.

S.2568 recognizes the riches of the Chesapeake, just as John Smith did when, referring to the Chesapeake, he said, "Heaven and earth never agreed better to form a more perfect place for man's habitation."  We urge your favorable consideration of this bill and would be pleased to answer any questions you may have.