Over 400 years ago, Captain John Smith arrived in the New World—and changed it forever. In addition to helping found Jamestown, the first permanent American settlement, Smith became the first English explorer to map the Chesapeake Bay. He and his small crew traveled the bay in a small open boat, or shallop, chronicling its beauty, resources and Native American communities.

Based in Jamestown, Smith and his crew of just over a dozen men courageously traveled and mapped almost 3,000 miles along the Chesapeake Bay, and visited scores of thriving Native American communities from 1607-1609. The voyages ensured the survival of the English settlers at Jamestown and the birth of democracy in North America.

Building the Nation’s First Water Trail

To commemorate Smith’s voyages, The Conservation Fund rallied support from the Chesapeake Bay community, including members of Congress, governors, state legislators, county commissioners, mayors, businesses, tourism agencies and non-profit organizations for the creation of the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail, the first entirely water-based trail in the National Trail System. The trail became official in 2006, just as the nation began to celebrate the 400th anniversary of this important chapter of American history.

The Fund’s efforts to promote the educational, recreational and heritage tourism opportunities associated with Captain Smith’s adventures have continued, as we and our partners successfully protect key lands along the trail, including an inn to be converted to a visitor’s center; a small island noted on Captain Smith’s original map of the bay; and more. In addition, we have worked closely with regional stakeholders to create the Chesapeake Conservancy, a non-profit organization to lead efforts to develop and protect the trail and conserve other lands within this treasured landscape of the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Most recently, in 2014, The Conservation Fund helped protect 212 acres that improves public access to the Captain John Smith Trail. We purchased the property, which contains 3,400 feet of frontage along the Chesapeake Bay and a variety of aquatic and woodland resources that were significant to Native American and colonial settlements, and transferred it to St. Mary’s County for incorporation into a county park. The Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ Program Open Space provided the funding. The U.S. Navy also acquired a conservation easement on the property, which lies just south of the Patuxent River Naval Air Station (NAS), as part of its Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration (REPI) Program. This creates a buffer around the naval base and permanently prevents the development of a 450-home subdivision that would have been subjected to a high level of noise from the naval base’s planes.

Why This Project Matters

Today, the trail provides an unparalleled opportunity for the public to learn about Native American history, early English settlement and the Chesapeake Bay’s natural resources. The trail promotes public education through trail maps and guidebooks, classroom and field experiences, museum and website exhibit, and interpretive buoys. It offers tremendous economic opportunities through heritage tourism, such as: trail outfitting and guide services, motor coach tours; food, lodging and maritime commerce.

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