The National Park Service is seeking to expand its presence around the Chesapeake Bay with a proposal that would provide funding for a variety of projects, including two visitors centers.
The proposal was released last week at the end of a two-year study of the Park Service's role regarding the Chesapeake.
As part of the study, the Park Service considered creating a national park or national reserve somewhere around the bay.
But those options were discarded in favor of a more conservative one: extending and modifying the Park Service's current role as coordinator of a group of more than 120 museums, parks and other attractions called the Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network.
In Anne Arundel County, the network includes Sandy Point State Park and the Annapolis Maritime Museum. The Park Service's role as coordinator of the network was supposed to end in 2008, but the study concluded it should go on, said Jonathan Doherty, director of the National Park Service's Chesapeake Bay office.
Doherty said the Park Service wants to expand its budget for Chesapeake activities from about $2.5 million to $3 million a year.
In addition, he said, the study called for a commitment of $5 million for two visitors centers that will introduce people to the "big-picture themes of the Chesapeake."
One of the visitors centers would probably be in the northern bay, in the Baltimore or Annapolis area, and the other in Hampton Roads, officials said. More detailed plans for the visitors centers have not been completed.
Doherty said the plan "is really trying to make the most of a core set [of] authentic Chesapeake places."
He said the study's consideration of a possible "Chesapeake Bay Estuary National Park" did not advance to the point that any particular sites were considered.
That idea would not have made the entire bay -- a 200-mile-long body of water with 11,600 miles of coastline -- into a national park. Instead, the plan would have been to adopt a smaller area that would give visitors a sense of the larger bay.
But, Doherty said, the bay was too diverse an ecosystem to be captured in a small area.
The plan will be presented to U.S. Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton for a final decision, Doherty said. If the 2008 "sunset date" is to be removed, he said, it would require action by Congress.