Establishment & Management of the Trail

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Earlier Planning

Legislation to establish the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail was signed into law on December 19, 2006, as an amendment to the National Trails System Act (16 U.S.C. 1244 25).

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 Feasibility Study, prepared by the National Park Service and available for public comment prior to publication, is the foundation for trail planning. Read the Trail's Feasibility Study Executive Summary or contact us to receive a hard copy by mail.

The Statement of Significance is a report on national significance used to determine whether the proposed trail met criteria for designation as a national historic trail.


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.

Read the Comprehensive Management Plan Executive Summary or contact us to receive a hard copy of the full report by mail. Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI)

Susquehanna National Heritage Area Logo

Trail Extended by the Secretary of the Interior

On May 16, 2012, Department of the Interior Secretary Ken Salazar designated water trails on four rivers as new historic connecting components to the Chesapeake National Historic 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 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.

  • The Susquehanna River Component Connecting Trail is a 552-mile system of water trails along the main portion and West Branch of the Susquehanna River. The trail reaches the Otsego Lake in New York on the main branch and the town of Lock Haven, Pennsylvania on the West Branch. Various partners along the Susquehanna portion work with trail staff to improve access, conservation, and programming, including the Susquehanna National Heritage Area, Endless Mountain Heritage Region, and Susquehanna Greenway Partnership.
  • The Chester River Component Connecting Trail is a 46-mile system of the Chester River and its major tributaries. Sultana Education Foundation, in close consultation with the State of Maryland, works with the Chesapeake National Historic Trail to provide trail-related programming along the Chester River.
  • 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 Upper James River Component Connecting Trail is a 220-mile water trail that crosses nine counties and extended the Chesapeake National Historic Trail from Richmond to Iron Gate, Virginia. The James River Association supports the trail's efforts along the James River.
A riverside with bright green vegetation.
James River State Park

Virginia State Parks

Segment Plans

The comprehensive management plan determined that the trail can best be developed and managed in smaller segments, given the trail's more than 3,000-mile scope and diverse resources. The segment planning approach helps NPS effectively understand the local resources, opportunities, and partner capacities in each segment.

James River

The James River segment was the first stretch of the Chesapeake National Historic Trail 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.

Read the James River Segment Plan Overview or contact us to receive a hard copy of the full report by mail.

Potomac River Segment Plan

Planning along the Potomac River segment of the trail began in early 2013 and has engaged hundreds of stakeholders including trail partners, public land managers, private developers, conservation groups and many other affiliations interested in the history, health, prosperity and recreational enjoyment of the tidal Potomac River. Multiple focus group meetings, stakeholder workshops and individual interviews were held over the course of two years to learn what people are doing, what they would like to be doing, and what could be done to enhance trail visitor experiences. Information was also gathered on any planned actions that would help address the identified needs and opportunities.

The planning team included representatives from the Commonwealth of Virginia, the state of Maryland, the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail, the Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail, the Potomac Conservancy, and the Chesapeake Conservancy.

Read the Potomac River Segment Plan Executive Summary or contact us to receive a hard copy of the full report by mail.

Lower Susquehanna River Segment Plan

The segment plan for the lower portion of the Susquehanna River was completed in 2018. The Lower Susquehanna is defined as the 74-mile corridor between the mouth of the Susquehanna near Havre de Grace, Maryland and its confluence with the Juniata River just north of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

The planning team for the segment plan included representatives from the National Park Service Chesapeake, Maryland Department of Natural Resources, Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Lower Susquehanna Heritage Greenway, Susquehanna Heritage, Chesapeake Conservancy, and the Susquehanna Riverlands Conservation Landscape, represented by staff from the Lancaster County Conservancy and Lancaster County Planning Commission.

The planning team envisioned ways to make the trail more visible and meaningful for visitors to the region. Interpretation, conservation, and public access to the water are central to the plan. Collaborative opportunities are also outlined for the two other national trails present in the region: Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail and Washington-Rochambeau National Historic Trail.

Read the Lower Susquehanna River Segment Implementation Plan, or contact us to receive a hard copy of the full report by mail.

Grasses poke out of shallow water in a creek.
Nanjemoy Creek, a tributary of the Potomac River.

Conservation Strategy

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 were appointed by the Secretary of the Interior, represented a wide range of state and federal agencies, non-governmental organizations, and citizens.

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.

The Conservation Strategy sets out a long-term strategy for conserving lands important to the visitor experience of the Chesapeake National Historic 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.

Read the Conservation Strategy Overview or contact us to receive a hard copy of the full report by mail.


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.

Read the Interpretive Plan Introduction or contact us to receive a hard copy of the full report by mail.


Last updated: May 4, 2022

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