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Groups push for better access to Chesapeake Bay

Efforts to increase access to Chesapeake Bay’s 11,684-mile shoreline are an ongoing and slow-moving process.

Only 2 percent of the bay offers public access points for kayaks, canoes, fishing, swimming and other activities, the Washington Post reported, and some of those places are so packed on sunny summer weekends that access is iffy.

“I call it the world’s biggest gated community, the Chesapeake Bay. There are probably 100 beaches in Anne Arundel County, but they are private beaches,” said Mike Lofton, a retired economic development executive and activist for bay access whose efforts helped open a public beach at Jack Creek Park, south of Annapolis, last week.

President Obama issued an executive order three years ago to build 300 access points by 2025 — to complement slightly more than a thousand that exist in the bay watershed — but progress is slow, the Post reported.

The National Park Service teamed with governments in the Chesapeake Bay region, including Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia, to fund and construct about 30 water-access points, John Davy, outdoor recreation resource planner for the Park Service, told the Post.

Non-profit groups such as the National Parks Conservation Association, Potomac Riverkeeper and West-Rhode Riverkeeper also are pushing for ways to get people to the water.

“We’ve been saving the bay from pollution for years, and it’s hard to get people invested in saving the rivers if they can’t get to them,” said Ed Stierli, the association’s landscape conservation fellow for national parks in the Chesapeake. “The Park Service has been moving along, but a lot of it comes down to funding … and the Park Service is underfunded and have limited funds for a lot of these access sites.”

Access to the bay and its tributaries is a larger issue than people just wanting to get their feet wet. A National Fish and Wildlife Foundation study two years ago found that recreational powerboating generated nearly $33 billion in revenue nationwide and $5 billion for the Chesapeake Bay region’s economy.

On a more basic level, impoverished anglers across six states rely on the fish they catch to feed their families, said Pam Goddard, Chesapeake and Virginia program manager for the association.

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