But a 64-mile stretch along the southern bank of the tidal James River, for example, has no regularly open access sites. “And there are long stretches of the Rappahannock, Potomac, Susquehanna, Nanticoke and other rivers, as well as the shoreline of the Bay where the public has little or no access to the water,” according to the Chesapeake Bay Public Access Plan drawn up by the Park Service last year.
In some urban areas such as the District, there are seven-to-15-mile stretches where people can’t get to water. The result: trespassing, a lack of concern about the region’s storied American Revolution and Civil War history, and apathy about eco-tourism.
Stierli is worried. “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.”
That’s not entirely true, said Davy of the Park Service. Working with states and nonprofit groups is helping the Park Service develop access points at a steady pace, he said. Davy expressed optimism about reaching the goal of 300 new sites in 16 years.
“We provide technical assistance; sites are built by partners through our partner relationships,” he said.
Lofton and several companions weren’t willing to wait for the state or federal government to burn a path to a beach in a county surrounded by water.
In “some of the best locations, the county requires you to get a permit” to walk a beach, Lofton said. The 30-day permits rival those for “immigration into the U.S.,” Lofton said, because of the details required to complete them. “They’re very discouraging,” he said.
Walking on the county’s Beverly Triton Beach required a permit until recently, Lofton said. The requirement was dropped after he and his associates complained.
Opening Jack Creek to the public took more planning, he said. A committee was formed to draw up a proposal for a modest parking lot that “could be created without a lot of complex permitting,” said Lofton, who is on the West-Rhode Riverkeeper board.
The winding path to the beach through brush isn’t for the faint of heart, with all the bugs along the way. But it’s worth it to Lofton.
“I routinely see bald eagles,” he said. “It is a gorgeous sight.” Too many people might scare away the eagles, so the county should spread them out. “We clearly need lots of places like this,” Lofton said.
That won’t be easy for the Park Service, a county or any government agency. Farmland that dominated the region is being sold to developers, who are building pricey houses and selling them to wealthy residents.
Homeowners frown on trespassers, who sometimes talk loudly and leave trash. On the other hand, Lofton said, the bay and its tributaries belong to the people.
“They’re concerned about their quality of life; they’re protective of it. I can understand a concern about more people and more boats being overwhelming,” Lofton said.
But “it’s the public’s property. You’re darn right. And we paid for it with flush fees and storm-water fees,” he said. “Doggone it, if you’re going to make everybody pay, then everybody should benefit.”