Destination: A New Historic Trail On The Chesapeake

chesapeakemap.jpgTourist trails have proved to be a popular way to get to know a destination. One of the oldest and best known is right here in New England, the Boston Freedom Trail, which makes it easy for visitors to follow a red stripe along the sidewalks to find all kinds of historic sites. Also well known are the Appalachian and Pacific Crest scenic hiking trails. National Historic Trails follow the route of the Pony Express, the Trail of Tears, the Iditarod, and more. All together, the U.S. has about 15 scenic or historic routes. (For links to all the trails on the list, click here.) I like the whole concept, it’s a fun and easy way to help travellers get to know a place.

Now the first on-the-water tourist trail is in the works for Chesapeake Bay, the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Water Trail. Just last week, Congress passed a bill to establish the trail, which is set to open officially next year, in time for the 400th anniversary of the settlement of Jamestown. Boaters will be able to follow the route, and tour operators will likely offer tours for the boatless.

Printed maps and guides will provide navigational, historical, cultural and environmental information, but boaters will also be guided by interpretative buoys at key points. The buoys act as “trail markers” and also provide information about Smith’s journey, cultural and natural history, and real-time monitoring of weather and environmental conditions. The buoy information can be accessed via cellphone and the Internet. At the Chesapeake Bay Foundation Web site, you can take a virtual tour via Google Earth, or go to the National Geographic site for a 13-minute video about the project.

john-smith-chesapeake-shallop.jpgIn the 1608 voyage by Capt. Smith, a crew of about a dozen explored and charted more than 2,500 miles of the Chesapeake Bay in a small open boat called a shallop, about 30 feet long. Next summer, a crew will set out in a replica of that boat to re-trace the original voyage. The reenactment will take 121 days, and if it sounds like fun to you, they are still looking for crew to sign on. You’ll be expected to row for up to six hours a day, sleep overnight in the boat or a tent, face heat, cold, rain, mosquitoes, and other environmental challenges, and be nice to your crew mates and the public while doing it. “Food, while ample and nutritious, will be basic and often served cold,” the organizers warn. If you have previous experience in extended outdoor/wilderness expeditioning, a background in sailing/rowing/kayaking, and a college degree, you could be the crew they’re looking for.

If the four-month voyage is not for you, other less-grueling events are in the works to celebrate the opening of the trail. Click here for the calendar posted by Friends of the John Smith Trail.