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Public Access

In 2016, 24 new public access sites were opened to the public. This brings the total number of public access sites in the Chesapeake Bay watershed to 1,269.


Public access to open space and waterways can improve public health and quality of life. People rely on outdoor places to exercise, relax and recharge their spirits. Time outdoors can strengthen family bonds and nurture active, creative children. At the same time, access to the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries can build personal connections with the places that have shaped life in the region for centuries. This can boost tourism economies and create citizen stewards who care for local resources and engage in conservation efforts. As development continues across the region, demand for places that allow the public to reach the water will remain high.


In 2014, the Chesapeake Bay Program adopted a goal to add 300 new public access sites to the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries by 2025. These sites can be located on local, state and federal lands, wildlife refuges, nature preserves or trails, and should allow boating, swimming and fishing where possible.

The baseline for this goal is the number of public access sites open in 2010: 1,139. In other words, the goal is to bring the total number of public access sites in the watershed to 1,439 by 2025.

Between 2010 and 2016, 130 public access sites were opened to the public: 15 sites in 2011, 18 sites in 2012, 36 sites in 2013, 17 sites in 2014, 20 sites in 2015 and 24 sites in 2016. This brings the total number of public access sites in the Chesapeake Bay watershed to 1,269.

Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania have seen the biggest increases in access sites during this time: about half of the access sites opened between 2010 and 2016 are located in Virginia, about one-quarter are located in Maryland and about one-quarter are located in Pennsylvania. This is not surprising, as the bulk of the Chesapeake Bay watershed—as well as existing public access sites and opportunities for new access sites—lies within these states. There are currently seven public access sites in Delaware, 23 in the District of Columbia, 36 in New York, 46 in West Virginia, 205 in Pennsylvania, 354 in Virginia and 598 in Maryland. Overall, our partners have met 43 percent of the goal to add 300 new access sites to the Bay and its tributaries by 2025.

Based on the opportunistic nature of public access site development and the lack of dependable funding for new access projects, variation between the numbers of sites developed each year is expected.

Additional Information

Defining public access

Public access sites can be owned, operated or managed for public access by any unit of federal, state or local government or by a non-governmental organization working under an agreement with a government agency.

Public access sites must be located along tidal streams, bays or fifth-order or larger streams. They must be developed and managed for boating access, swimming access, fishing access or viewing access for water, wildlife or shoreline areas. Access sites can be considered on streams smaller than fifth-order when these streams are part of a water trail or contribute to its development.

The Chesapeake Bay Program’s Public Access Planning Action Team has defined “new” access sites as those that meet the following conditions:

  • Development of a new public access facility on a site owned and operated by a governmental entity or non-governmental organization operating under an agreement with an entity of government
  • Development of a new type of access at an existing site, e.g. a fishing pier added to a site that currently features a boat ramp

Expanding public access

The National Park Service and Public Access Planning Action Team have developed the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Public Access Plan to address the need to expand public access across the region. This plan was designed to assess the demand for public access; take stock of existing public access facilities; assess barriers to public access; determine gaps in the public access system; identify opportunities for new access sites; and help direct federal, state and local funding toward public access opportunities.


Amy Handen
National Park Service (NPS)
(410) 260-2493

Source of Data

Chesapeake Bay Program

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