The Chesapeake Bay has 11,684 miles of shoreline. Nearly 11 million people have access to it. Only 2 percent of it is available for public use for loading boats, kayaks and other water recreation.
For Anne Arundel County residents, that number is too low.
“We are about to pay more to use water, flush our toilets,” said Mike Lofton, member of the Anne Arundel County Water Access Committee, “It’s something I’m willing to do, but I also want to benefit from this.”’
In the last year, members of the National Park Service have been identifying places where free water access could exist along the bay.
So far, officials have identified 300 places, thanks to open forums and crowdsourcing efforts.
Their goal: have these access points in use by 2025.
Jonathan Doherty, assistant superintendent of the National Park Service Chesapeake Region, said so far progress has been good in the last year.
To accomplish the goal, the National Park Service has teamed with governments in the Chesapeake Bay region, including Maryland, Virginia and the District, to fund and construct water-access points.
“It’s not just the park service doing this,” Doherty said. “It’s also local governments, townships and local groups taking on this initiative.”
In Maryland, engagement has gone to the grassroots level. Lofton and his committee have submitted over 30 places in Anne Arundel County that could be part of the public access plan.
The group is also working on a water trail in the southern portion of the county. A second plan for a northern water trail is also in the works.
According to the park service experts, significant portions of the shoreline have little or no access for people to use.
This includes the southern bank of the tidal James River in Virginia where a 64-mile stretch of shoreline has no access site.
Advocates say this movement will help fund the state’s booming water economy.
“Kayak and paddling are some of the fastest growing water sports on the bay,” said Ed Stierli, of the National Parks Conservation Association.
“Think about it, REI is about to open its seventh store,” he said. “Sales for things like kayaks are up 40 percent in the last year.”
Paul Spadaro, president of the Magothy River Association, said he is working to get better facilities at Beachwood Park, which is considered an access point.
The process, he says, has been frustrating.
“The hardest part is getting everyone on the same page,” he said. “I know it will happen, we could use it for residents.”
Lofton said his group is now working to lobby for more funding to get access points up and ready for residents.
“We have to present,” he said. “Or these projects might not be seen again.”
In the last year, the group successfully worked with Anne Arundel County Recreation and Parks to restructure Jack Creek Park in Shadyside and reopen it as a public access point for the bay.