By Aleksandra Robinson
WASHINGTON – The Chesapeake Bay is slated to get $50 million in funding thanks to an appropriations bill that passed the Senate last night and awaits President Obama’s signature.
In Maryland, the funds will include: $1 million for the Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Watertrails Network, which provides support to more than 160 parks, wildlife refuges and museums, centered around the Chesapeake Bay, as well as 22 water trails; $2 million for the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Dorchester County; and $500,000 for the Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail.
Overall the bill, called the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations Conference Report, includes $50 million for the bay out of $641 million for the protection of the nation’s great bodies of water.
“The Chesapeake Bay is a national treasure — and Maryland’s greatest natural resource,” said Maryland Democratic Sen. Barbara Mikulski, a member of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that produced the bill, in a written statement.
“Maryland’s communities want to do right by the Bay, but they can’t do it on their own. That’s why I’ve worked so hard to put money in the federal checkbook to preserve and protect the Bay and speed its cleanup. I will always fight for the Bay and the lives and livelihoods that depend on it,” she said.
About $3.5 million of the funding will go to projects in the Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Watertrails Network.
Maryland Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin lauded the bill’s passage and the work of the gateways network.
“(The gateways are) a very, very popular part of Maryland. We depend on it for tourism. It brings our history to life,” Cardin said. “It has been very successful in developing important sites along the bay.”
Bob Campbell, network program manager, said the network receives around $1 million in federal funds every year. Both the Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail and the Blackwater Refuge are also network members and will receive funding from the bill.
“The network itself is a partnership of 166 sites throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed. They are watertrails, they’re museums and historic sites … county parks, state parks, that have all self-nominated themselves into the state waterways network,” Campbell said.
The network also funds a grant program through the National Park Service.
“When someone says they want to go see the Chesapeake Bay, well it’s big and its diverse; it’s over a huge geographic region; it’s got a story,” Campbell said. “And to say one is interested in the Chesapeake Bay or wants to learn about the Chesapeake Bay, there’s a lot of stories to tell.”
The network works with one of the newer members to get funding: the Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail.
The new trail is, “commemorating the Chesapeake campaign of the War of 1812,” Campbell said. The federal funding will probably go toward the planning and implementation of the trail, which Campbell said will include both water and land sites.
The Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge is also designated a gateway in the Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Watertrails Network.
The $2 million in the bill for Blackwater is to be used for land acquisition, said Suzanne Baird, refuge manager.
“Every national wildlife refuge has an approved boundary that identifies the land needed to meet the purpose for which the land was established,” Baird said.
The Blackwater Refuge provides wintering spots for migratory birds, as well as a habitat for the endangered Delmarva Fox Squirrel. Currently the refuge covers 25,000 acres.