A new national trail takes shape through careful planning. In the initial years after designation of the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail in 2006, the National Park Service led a comprehensive planning process to determine how the trail's resources can be managed and how visitors can best experience the trail. NPS enlisted broad involvement of the general public as well as federal agencies, state and local governments, nonprofit organizations, American Indian groups, businesses, and various other entities in order to develop the best framework for managing the trail over time.

Comprehensive Management Plan

The National Park Service completed the comprehensive management plan and environmental assessment (CMP/EA) for the trail in February 2011, following a two-year public planning process. The comprehensive management plan is required by the National Trails System Act. The environmental assessment is required by the National Environmental Policy Act. The CMP/EA:

  • Establishes how the trail will be developed and managed over the next 20 years
  • Assesses potential impacts on natural and cultural resources
  • Identifies the trail's significant places and stories and how to protect resources critical to the trail
  • Crafts meaningful visitor experiences on land and water
  • Defines management objectives and alternatives to meet those objectives
  • Recommends a preferred alternative for managing the trail.

The comprehensive management plan will guide decisions about the trail for the next 20 years. The plan will be implemented through a series of 3-5 year action plans, as funding becomes available.

Click on the links below to view sections of the final comprehensive management plan:

Trail Extended

On May 16, 2012, Department of the Interior Secretary Ken Salazar designated water trails on four rivers as new historic connecting components to the John Smith Trail. Extending the trail by 841 miles, the newly designated components are the Susquehanna River, the Chester River, the Upper James River, and the Upper Nanticoke River.

  • The Susquehanna River Component Connecting Trail is a 552-mile system of water trails along the main stem and West Branch of the Susquehanna River in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New York. Sections of the trail are managed by a variety of organizations and agencies, all of which support the component connecting designation. Overall coordination of the component is provided by the Susquehanna Greenway Partnership. The southern end of this trail links directly with the John Smith Trail at Conowingo, Maryland.
  • The Chester River Component Connecting Trail is a 46-mile system of the Chester River and its major tributaries. The trail connects to the John Smth Trail at its mouth just south of Rock Hall, Maryland. This connecting component is managed by Sultana Projects of Chestertown, Maryland, in close consultation with the State of Maryland.
  • The Upper Nanticoke River Component Connecting Trail is an existing state water trail managed by the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control along approximately 23 miles of the Nanticoke River, Broad Creek and Deep Creek. The western end of this trail links directly with the John Smith Trail.
  • The Upper James River Component Connecting Trail is a 220-mile water trail that crosses nine counties and connects to the John Smith Trail at the Falls of the James River in Richmond, VA. It is managed by the James River Association.

The designation of trail components enables the National Park Service to work closely with state and local agencies and other partners -- notably conservation and tribal organizations -- to provide technical and financial assistance, resource management, facility enhancement, interpretive trail route marking, and promotion of the rivers' recreational and historic value.

See a map of the extended John Smith Trail.

See the Secretarial designation document.

Segment Planning

The comprehensive management plan determined that the trail can best be developed and managed in smaller segments, given the trail's 2,100-mile scope and diverse resources. The segment planning approach helps NPS effectively understand the local resources, opportunities, and partner capacities in each segment.

Segment plans will tier off the CMP and address a five-year timeframe. Plans will require approval by NPS, which has trail-wide responsibilities for administering the Smith trail. Initial trail management segments include:

  • James River, Chickahominy River, Nansemond River, and Elizabeth River
  • Cape Charles and Lower Eastern Shore
  • Nanticoke River
  • Middle Bay
  • Patapsco River
  • Patuxent River
  • Potomac River
  • Head of the Bay
  • Susquehanna River and Sassafras River
  • Rappahannock River and Piankatank River
  • York River, Mattaponi River, and Pamunkey River

The James River segment was the first stretch of the Captain John Smith Chesapeake NHT to undergo segment planning. The National Park Service worked with the James River Association, Chesapeake Conservancy, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Commonwealth of Virginia in a collaborative planning process to identify resources, specific actions, and partnerships required to develop and manage the trail in the segment between Richmond and the Route 17 Bridge, including the free-flowing tidal portion of the Chickahominy River. Five focus areas were identified and a set of strategies developed for enhancing visitor experience along the James River segment of the Trail. Click through on the links below to read an overview of the James River segment plan, and to see the entire plan.

In December 2013, the James River Progress report was prepared. This report shows the many proposed actions which have been completed since 2011 and the key accomplishments in implementing the original plan.

Beginning in December, 2012, planning for the Potomac River segment is underway. Included in the planning team is the Potomac Conservancy, the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail, state of Maryland, Commonwealth of Virginia, and the Chesapeake Conservancy.

Conservation Strategy for the John Smith Trail

The trail's Comprehensive Management Plan called for development of a conservation strategy to guide conservation of resources which contribute to the visitor experience along the trail. Throughout 2012, the National Park Service, in collaboration with the Chesapeake Conservancy, consulted closely and regularly with the trail Advisory Council in developing a Conservation Strategy for the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail. The Advisory Council, whose members are appointed by the Secretary of the Interior, represents a wide range of state and federal agencies, non-governmental organizations, and citizens.

The Conservation Strategy sets out a long-term strategy for conserving lands important to the visitor experience of the John Smith Trail. Its purpose is several-fold:

  • Further define the trail's most important resources and their locations, based on parameters set in the trail's Comprehensive Management Plan.
  • Set out a consistent approach for assessing trail resources and their conservation needs.
  • Encourage local, state, and federal partners to protect trail resources as a core part of broader land conservation efforts.
  • Provide guidelines for implementing conservation through collaborative actions of the National Park Service and its partners.

In short, the strategy provides the means for defining priority conservation areas relative to the trail and designing appropriate conservation methods. Its focus is on saving the places that enrich visitor experiences and recreation along the trail and that contribute synergy to the many programs working to improve quality of life along the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers.

Trail Advisory Council

The advisory council for the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail, initially appointed by the Secretary of the Interior in 2008, consists of representatives of federal and state agencies and Bay-related organizations. The council consults with the Secretary on matters relating to the trail and assists the National Park Service in planning, identifying significant trail resources, and other matters. For information on the Trail Advisory Council, click here.

Public Involvement

Wide public participation is essential throughout the trail planning process. Input from the public helps guide the National Park Service in finding the best methods to manage, interpret, and access the trail. Through workshops, consultations, and the public comment process, the National Park Service asks the public to help shape the framework for long-term management and use of the trail. Throughout the comprehensive management planning process the public was informed and invited to comment through the National Park Service Planning, Environment and Public Comment (PEPC)website.

To learn of opportunities to participate in public meetings or workshops as trail planning and development continue, contact us to be added to the email contact list.

Interpretive Plan

As part of the trail planning process the National Park Service has prepared an interpretive plan for the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail. The interpretive plan provides a vision for interpretive, educational, and recreational opportunities related to the trail, and defines short-and long-term goals for making meaningful connections between visitors and Chesapeake Bay resources.

A product of collaboration with Chesapeake Bay Gateways, agencies, tribes, community organizations, and others, the interpretive plan is a guiding document with reference information that trail partners can use to develop visitor experiences along the trail.

Download the Interpretive Plan (4 MB)

Feasibility Study and Environmental Assessment

The current planning process builds upon early planning documents. The Feasibility Study and Environmental Assessment for the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail, published in July 2006, was an essential part of the trail designation process. The document, prepared by the National Park Service and available for public comment prior to publication, is the foundation for trail planning. You can read the document by selecting the files below.

Statement of Significance

The statement of significance for the John Smith Trail is a report on national significance used to determine whether the proposed trail meets criteria for designation as a national historic trail. You can read a brief overview or download the document in its entirety or in sections.


Chespeake Bay Special Resource Study

Responding to a request from Congress included within report language for the Fiscal Year 1999 Interior Appropriations Act, the National Park Service prepared the Chesapeake Bay Special Resource Study and Final Environmental Impact Statement (SRS/FEIS) to explore the potential for a new unit of the National Park System focused on the Chesapeake Bay. The SRS/FEIS examines: whether having additional Chesapeake Bay resources within the Naitonal Park System would meet NPS criteria and would advance partnership efforts to conserve and restore the Chesapeake Bay; defines alternative concepts for how the National Park System might best represent the resources and significance of the Chesapeake Bay; and identifies a preferred alternative.

Download the entire report - .pdf (17 MB) (Note: this is a very large file and will take a significant amount of time to download, especially for those on dial-up connections)

Download individual chapters and sections:

  • Abstract - .pdf (75 kb)
  • Executive Summary - .pdf (135 kb)
  • Table of Contents .pdf (48 kb)
  • Section 1- Purpose and Need For Action - .pdf (145 kb)
  • Section 2 - National Significance of the Chesapeake Bay - .pdf (176 kb)
  • Section 3 - Analysis of Opportunities - .pdf (188 kb)
  • Section 4 - Conceptual Alternatives - .pdf (1.1 MB)
  • Section 5 - Affected Environment - .pdf (350 kb)
  • Section 6 - Environmental Consequences - .pdf (302 kb)
  • Section 7 - Environmentally Preferred Alternative -.pdf (102 kb)
  • Section 8 - Consultation and Coordination - .pdf (187 kb)
  • Section 9 - References - .pdf (69 kb)
  • Appendix A - Sub-Themes Associated with the Chesapeake Bay - .pdf (75 kb)
  • Appendix B - Comments from Federal, State and Local Government Agencies and Nongovernmental Organizations - .pdf (15.4 MB)
  • Appendix C - Suggested Places Based on Public and Agency Comments - .pdf (76 kb)

Record of Decision: Chesapeake Bay Special Resource Study & Final Environmental Impact Statement - .pdf (144 kb)


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