Congress protects popular walking trails on Chesapeake near Annapolis

Congress protects popular walking trails on Chesapeake near Annapolis

A view from Greenbury Point on the Chesapeake Bay. Bay Journal photo by Susan Mays

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By Jeremy Cox/Bay Journal

The $886 billion national defense bill signed by President Biden on Friday contains some notable fine print for Maryland nature buffs.

Three members of the state’s congressional delegation inserted language into the bill blocking the U.S. Navy from permanently restricting public access to Greenbury Point. The property, a forested 230-acre peninsula jutting into the Chesapeake Bay near Annapolis, has served as a popular destination for birders and hikers for more than two decades.

The land is owned by the Navy as part of the Naval Support Activity Annapolis facility and is used as an occasional training ground for midshipmen and as a buffer for a firing range.

The tract, formally known as the Greenbury Point Conservation Area, found itself at the center of a controversy after the Navy acknowledged in April 2022 that it was considering a proposal to transform the acreage into a golf course. The Naval Academy Golf Association (NAGA) had sought to lease the land for the course adjacent to its existing 18-hole facility.

The Navy and the NAGA broke off talks amid the pushback later in the year. The provision in the defense bill provides stronger assurance that Greenbury Point will remain open to the public, supporters say.

“As the Navy has considered altering that access, our constituents expressed their strong opposition to changing that policy. That’s why we fought for this provision that says in no uncertain terms [that] Greenbury Point must stay open to the public,” said Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen, one of the measure’s architects.

Visitors on trail at Greenbury Point
Visitors travel a path at Greenbury Point near Annapolis. Photo by Joel Dunn/Chesapeake Conservancy via the Bay Journal

“Its proximity to the Chesapeake Bay makes it an important place for outdoor recreation and conservation in the region,” said Sen. Ben Cardin, another Democratic backer. “Ensuring public access and preventing further development will allow Greenbury Point to continue to be a model of coastal stewardship for the Chesapeake Bay.”

The Senate passed the defense bill on Dec. 13. In the House, where Democratic Rep. John Sarbanes was the primary advocate, lawmakers voted in favor of it the following day.

The bill states that the secretary of the Navy “may not modify or restrict” public access to the site except for when conditions may be hazardous, such as during live fire demonstrations. It also does not apply if the property is leased or transferred to another public entity. But supporters say that would still rule out the golf course proposal because the NAGA is a private organization.

A spokeswoman for Naval Support Activity Annapolis said that the Navy will adhere to the new language. She added that a golf course is no longer under consideration for the site and that no “sole-source lease proposals” are currently on the table.

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