Hearings and Business Meetings

SD-366 Energy Committee Hearing Room 02:30 PM

The Honorable Paul Sarbanes

Member , U.S. Senate

Statement of Senator Paul S. Sarbanes

Before the Subcommittee on National Parks

Committee on Energy and Natural Resources

United States Senate

May 16, 2005



           Thank you Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee, for this opportunity to testify on S. 2568, designating the route of Captain John Smith’s exploration of the Chesapeake Bay as a National Historic Trail. 

            We have a unique opportunity to commemorate a very significant event in the history of our Nation and of the Chesapeake Bay – the 400th Anniversary of Captain John Smith’s first landing and settlement at Jamestown, Virginia and the beginning of his momentous voyages of discovery in the Chesapeake Bay region.  There is a compelling case to be made for establishing this trail and Senators Warner, Allen and I are joined here today by Pat Noonan, Chairman Emeritus of The Conservation Fund – who conceived this idea – and Gilbert Grosvenor, Chairman of the Board of the National Geographic Society, to make that case and to appeal to the Committee to swiftly approve this legislation and designate this trail, this year, before our nation’s quadcentennial   celebrations in 2007. 


            As you well know, the Congress established the National Trails System “…in order to promote the preservation of, public access to, travel within and enjoyment and appreciation of the open-air, outdoor areas and historic resources of the Nation.”  National Historic Trails such as the Lewis and Clark Trail, the Pony Express Trail, the Trail of Tears, and the Selma to Montgomery Trail were authorized as part of this system to identify and protect historic routes for public use and enjoyment and to commemorate major events which shaped American history.  To qualify for designation as a National Historic Trail, a trail must meet three principal criteria:  It must be “nationally significant,” have a documented route through maps or journals, and offer significant potential for public recreational use.  There is no question that the proposed Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail meets these criteria and is a fitting addition to the National Trails System. 


            We are grateful for the Committee’s support last year in helping us to enact provisions authorizing the National Park Service to undertake a study of the feasibility of establishing the proposed trail.  Pursuant to that legislation, on March 21, 2006, the National Park System Advisory Board concluded that the proposed trail is “nationally significant” because of its impact on the exploration and settlement of North America, its impact on the commerce and trade of North America and its impact on our ethnic heritage and relations between the English settlers and the Native American tribes of the region.        


            The National Park Service has been proceeding expeditiously with its examination of the other two criteria and recently completed a thorough, peer-reviewed report, which is now being published, documenting the routes of John Smith’s Chesapeake voyages, satisfying the second of the three criteria.   The careful journals that Smith kept and the remarkably accurate maps and charts he made of his voyages into the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries provided a wealth of information to support this study. 


            Likewise it is clear that the proposed trail offers tremendous opportunities for public recreation and historical interpretation and appreciation.  Similar in historic importance to the Lewis and Clark National Trail, this new historic “watertrail” will inspire generations of Americans and visitors to follow Smith's journeys, to learn about the roots of our nation and to better understand the contributions of the Native Americans who lived within the Bay region.  It would allow voyagers in small boats, cruising boats, kayaks and canoes to travel the same routes that Smith took -- from the mouth to the headwaters of Chesapeake Bay -- and serve as a national outdoor resource, providing rich opportunities for education, recreation, and heritage tourism not only for more than 16 million Americans living in the Bay's watershed, but for visitors to this area.  Already reports about the proposed trail and the reproductions of the vessels – the Godspeed and open shallop -- are generating national and international attention and inquiries.  Equally important, the Trail would help highlight the Bay's remarkable maritime history, its unique watermen and their culture, the diversity of its peoples, its historical settlements and our current efforts to restore and sustain the world's most productive estuary.  In response to an inquiry on the status of the study that Senator Warner and I sent to the National Park Service, the Director recently responded “...we have not encountered any information that would lead us to believe that the trail fails to meet required criteria for designation.” 


            What better way to commemorate this important part of our nation’s history and honor John Smith’s courageous voyages than by designating the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail?  We are strongly supported in this endeavor by our co-sponsors, Senators Mikulski, Carper, Biden, Santorum and Specter, by the Governors of Maryland, Virginia, Delaware and Pennsylvania and the Mayor of the District of Columbia, as well as scores of other officials, individuals and organizations, including the Garden Club of America, the Izaak Walton League of America, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, and the Chesapeake Bay Commission.  In fact we know of no opposition to the legislation.


There is precious little time remaining in this session of the Congress -- less than 15 weeks -- and it is important to have this legislation on a fast track if we are to have any hope of having the trail designated before the 400th anniversary celebrations in 2007.  We urge the Committee to swiftly approve this measure and report it to the full Senate for consideration.