Sens. Tom Carper and Chris Coons, both D-Delaware, introduced legislation May 1 to reauthorize the highly successful Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Watertrails program run by the National Park Service.

Through the program, the NPS Chesapeake Bay Office provides competitive matching grants between $5,000 and $50,000 for projects that enhance public education about and access to the Chesapeake Bay. Only sites that have gone through a rigorous review process and have been formally selected as part of the Gateway and Watertrails Network are eligible for the competitive grants. In Delaware, both Trap Pond State Park in Laurel and the Nanticoke River Water Trail, a segment of the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Water Trail running through the Seaford and Laurel areas, benefit from this program.

Also sponsoring the bill in the Senate are Delmarva Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen, both D-Maryland, and Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, both D-Virginia.

“This program is one of the best tools at our disposal to boost public access to the places that make the Chesapeake Bay Watershed such an important national treasure, “ said Carper. “Delaware boasts a variety of sites — both coastal and inland — that speak to the cultural and natural value of the region and draw visitors who contribute to our state’s $3 billion a year tourism economy. I’m excited to continue my support of this crucial federal-state partnership.”

“The Chesapeake Bay watershed is one of our greatest natural resources, providing wonderful recreational opportunities and supporting the livelihoods of millions across our region,” said Coons. “Thousands of visitors from around the country visit our region to immerse themselves in our breathtaking natural landscapes and experience all of the natural, cultural and historic sites the Chesapeake has to offer. I am proud to be an original co-sponsor of the bipartisan reauthorization of the Chesapeake Gateways and Watertrails program.”

For more than 20 years, the Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Watertrails Network has expanded public access to the Chesapeake Bay through a state, local and federal partnership of dozens of sites, parks, wildlife refuges and water trails throughout the watershed — facilitating enhanced interpretation, education, youth employment and recreation. Visitation at Chesapeake Gateways sites exceeds 10 million people annually, and demand for these competitive grants far exceeds available funds every year.

The bicameral effort to reauthorize the Chesapeake Gateways and Watertrails Program is spearheaded in the House of Representatives by Rep. John P. Sarbanes, D-Maryland. The legislation is endorsed by the Chesapeake Conservancy, National Parks Conservation Association, Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the Choose Clean Water Coalition.

The full text of the bill is available at bit.ly/2JauMEK.