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Home > About the Chesapeake > Exploring the Bay > Captain John Smith's Chesapeake Voyages > Captain John Smith's Chesapeake Voyages: John Smith Water Trail
Captain John Smith's Chesapeake Voyages: John Smith Water Trail

Legislation signed by the President on December 19, 2006, established the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail as the first national water trail in the United States . Designated through an amendment to the National Trails System Act, the new trail will trace nearly 3000 miles of historic routes taken by John Smith from 1607-1609 to chart the land and waterways of the Chesapeake Bay . The legislation specifies that the Secretary of the Interior will administer the trail in coordination with the Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Watertrails Network and the Chesapeake Bay Program , and in consultation with federal, state, tribal, regional, and local agencies and the private sector.

John Smith Water Trail with
Gateways sites (1.5
MB .pdf)

Why the Trail

The trail will provide new opportunities for education, recreation, and heritage tourism on and around the Chesapeake Bay. Ultimately, by providing more opportunities for people to interact with the Chesapeake's diverse histories, cultures, and ecosystems, the trail will help faciliate protection of these resources and generate stronger stewardship of this national treasure. This potential to foster citizen stewardship garnered support for the trail from many partners in Bay restoration efforts, including the Chesapeake Bay Program; private entities, such as The Conservation Fund, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, and The National Geographic Society; and the more than 150 sites that make up the Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network .

What the Trail Will Include

The route of the new water trail traces John Smith's several voyages on the York and James rivers in 1607 and his two major voyages around the Chesapeake Bay during the summer of 1608, both of which started from Jamestown and headed out the James River into the Bay. It will go north along the Eastern Shore, across the Bay to present-day Baltimore and the Patapsco River and southward along the Western Shore and up the Potomac River to present-day Washington, D.C., before returning to Jamestown . The second leg of the Smith trail travels straight up the Bay to the mouth of the Susquehanna River and present-day Havre de Grace, then returns southward with stops along the Patuxent and Rappahannock rivers.

As the nation's first national water trail, the Captain John Smith Chesapeake NHT will be most fully experienced by watercraft and at water access sites. However, visitors will also be able to view the trail setting and learn the stories from land. Numerous existing land sites along the voyage routes will interpret Smith's explorations, native settlements and cultures, and the environment of the early 17th century.

John Smith Water Trail with
Gateways sites, marinas and
public access sites (1.9
MB .pdf)

Many of these sites are part of the Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network and already offer opportunities to learn about the significance of Smith's Chesapeake voyages. The trail will identify the approximate location of the many native Indian villages that existed in the 17th century and encourage projects that highlight the vibrant native cultures.

Innovative Markers for the John Smith Water Trail

Traditional methods of trail marking don’t work well on water, so a new method will be used to mark parts of the first national water trail. The Chesapeake Bay Office of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is developing an innovative system of buoys to mark several locations on the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail.

These “talking buoys” will serve as interpretive guideposts, linking trail visitors—whether in a kayak next to the buoy or at home on their computer—with information via cell phone or internet-accessible devices. Information will include interpretation of the area’s cultural and natural history as well as the national historic trail. The Chesapeake Bay Interpretive Buoy System (CBIBS) will also collect and transmit real-time meteorological and water-quality data via the internet for multiple scientific and educational uses. Data will be relayed from the buoys and onto the internet using cutting-edge wireless technology.

Three of the buoys launched in 2007: off Jamestown in time for the America’s 400th Anniversary celebration; at Point Lookout where the Potomac River meets the Bay; and where the Patapsco River intersects the Bay at Baltimore. NOAA is working with educational partners to develop interpretive components and classroom curricula utilizing the CBIBS technology.

You can find real-time observations and historical and cultural information for CBIBS at and by calling 1-877-BUOY-BAY.

Who Is Responsible

Many opportunities exist now to get
out on the Bay including
existing water trails such as the
Eastern Neck Island Water Trail.

A year-long feasibility study recommended that the National Park Service have the federal role in administering the trail. Trail planning and development will be a broad community-based effort coordinated by the National Park Service working closely with other federal agencies—in particular the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Environmental Protection Agency, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; with state and local agencies in Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, and the District of Columbia; with businesses; Native American communities; non-governmental organizations, such as The Conservation Fund, National Geographic, and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation; and with water trail and river steward organizations and other local stakeholders. These many partners will provide the vibrancy of the trail's stewardship, interpretation, and visitor experience.

What Happens Next

The National Park Service has begun the process to develop a comprehensive plan for managing and interpreting the trail. Recognizing that the trail would not have become reality without the efforts of private sector partners, NPS will involve these organizations and many other stakeholders throughout the planning process. Efforts are already under way to identify individuals, businesses, water trail and river steward organizations, Native American communities, and other non-governmental entities which, along with federal, state, and local entities in Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, and the District of Columbia, will have interests in planning the trail. A formal advisory council will be named by the Secretary of the Interior to assist in the planning process.

Through a collaborative process involving trail partners, agencies, Gateways, tribes, community organizations, and others, the National Park Service is developing the Interpretive Plan for the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail (CAJO). The Interpretive Plan will provide a vision for the future of interpretation and education for the trail and define long-term goals for meaningful connections between visitors and Bay resources.

Your Trail, Your Voice

Public Invited to Share Ideas, Suggestions on the Future of John Smith Chesapeake Trail

The National Park Service (NPS) has announced a series of open houses to receive public input and comments on the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail. These events, held throughout the Chesapeake Bay region in late September and early October, will provide background on the trail, explain the suggested interpretive themes, and share issues and questions NPS seeks to answer as it develops the trail’s comprehensive management plan and environmental assessment (CMP/EA).

“Public involvement is key to a successful future of the trail,” said John Maounis, the trail’s superintendent.  “Based on what we hear at these workshops, we can develop meaningful programs and concepts that will relate to everyone who visit this unique and significant resource.”

The national historic trail, established in 2006, retraces the 1607-1609 voyages of John Smith in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. Touching upon Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, and in the District of Columbia, the trail’s purpose is three-fold: commemorate Smith’s voyages, share knowledge about the Chesapeake Indian societies and cultures, and interpret the natural history of the Bay.

Extensive public involvement (as well as consultation with state agencies) is sought to help guide the NPS as it works to understand the best methods to manage, interpret, and access the trail. The workshops, held in an “open house” format with NPS staff on hand to respond to questions, are scheduled for three consecutive weeks beginning on September 23 at the Historic Jamestowne Visitor Center in Jamestown, Virginia. Other Virginia workshops will be held in Cape Charles, Deltaville, and Alexandria. Venues in Baltimore, Havre de Grace, and St. Michaels have been selected for Maryland’s workshops. An additional workshop will be held in Seaford, Delaware.

Public input from the open houses will help shape a set of management alternatives, which will also be brought before the public in spring 2009. NPS plans to distribute a draft CMP/EA in fall of 2009 (also open to public comment). A final plan, which will include responses to the public comments, is expected in early 2010.

The public is invited to share their thoughts at the open houses and online at

Read our Newsletter.

Schedule of Public Open Houses on the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail

September 23, 2008                           
Historic Jamestowne Visitor Center
1368 Colonial Parkway
Jamestown, VA 23081
6 – 8 pm

September 24, 2008                           
Deltaville Community Center
17147 General Puller Highway
Deltaville, VA 23043
6 – 8 pm

September 25, 2008                           
Indigo Landing Restaurant                
1 Marina Drive
Alexandria, VA 22314
6:30 – 8:30 pm

September 30, 2008                           
Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine Visitor Center
2400 East Fort Avenue
Baltimore, MD 21230
6 – 8 pm

October 1, 2008                                 
Seaford City Hall                               
414 High Street
Seaford, DE 19973
6 – 8 pm

October 2, 2008                                 
Havre de Grace Maritime Museum    
100 Lafayette Street
Havre De Grace, MD 21078
6 – 8 pm

October 7, 2008                                 
Anheuser-Busch Coastal Research Center
(University of Virginia)
6364 Cliff Road (off Crumb Hill Road)
Cape Charles, VA  23310
6 – 8 pm

October 8, 2008                                 
Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum

Interpretive Planning

The planning process identifies trail audiences, interpretive themes, and strategies for achieving desired visitor experiences. The plan will be a guiding document with reference information that Gateways and other providers can use to develop visitor experiences along the trail.

A series of nine interpretive planning workshops were held in late 2007 - early 2008. The Interpretive Plan is one part of the Comprehensive Management Plan, which will develop out of additional workshops and public involvement around the Bay.

Become Involved

For information on activities related to the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail and the planning process, and on how to participate, see the official National Park Service website for the trail In addition, these partners in the creation and development of the trail provide trail-related information on their websites:

  • Sultana Projects, Inc.
  • Friends of the Captain John Smith Water Trail
  • NOAA- Chesapeake Bay Office
  • The Conservation Fund
  • National Geographic
  • Chesapeake Bay Foundation

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