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Public Statements

Nomination Of Robert M. Gates

Location: Washington, DC

NOMINATION OF ROBERT M. GATES--Continued -- (Senate - December 06, 2006)


Mr. SARBANES. Mr. President, this legislation, S. 2568 and its House companion H.R. 5466, the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail Designation Act, would create the Nation's first national ``watertrail'' and honor one of America's earliest explorers, Captain John Smith and the vital role he played in the founding of the first permanent English settlement in North America at Jamestown, VA, and in exploring the Chesapeake Bay region during the years 1607 to 1609.

Many Americans are aware of the upcoming 400th anniversary of Jamestown next year. The celebration is expected to draw record numbers of visitors to this area, including Queen Elizabeth II, as part of her recently announced state visit. What may not be as well known is that Jamestown and John Smith's voyages of exploration in present-day Virginia and Maryland were our Nation's starting points. America has its roots right here in the Chesapeake Bay region nearly 400 years ago--13 years before the founding of the Plymouth colony--when the Jamestown colonists disembarked from their three small ships on May 13, 1607. Under the leadership of Captain John Smith, the fledgling colony not only survived but helped ignite a new era of discovery in the New World.

With a dozen men in a 30-foot open boat, Smith's expeditions in search of food for the new colony and the fabled Northwest Passage took him nearly 3,000 miles around the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries from the Virginia capes to the mouth of the Susquehanna. On his voyages and as president of the Jamestown Colony, Captain Smith became the first point of contact for scores of Native-American leaders from around the bay region. His friendship with Pocahontas is now an important part of American folklore. Smith's notes describing the indigenous people he met and the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem are still widely studied by historians, environmental scientists, and anthropologists. Chief Justice John Marshall wrote of the significance of Smith's explorations: ``When we contemplate the dangers, and the hardships he encountered, and the fortitude, courage and patience with which he met them; when we reflect on the useful and important additions which he made to the stock of knowledge respecting America, then possessed by his countrymen; we shall not hesitate to say that few voyages of discovery, undertaken at any time, reflect more honour on those engaged in them, than this does on Captain Smith.''

What better way to commemorate this important part of our Nation's history and honor John Smith's courageous voyages than by designating the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail? The Congress established the National Trails System ``to provide for the ever-increasing outdoor recreation needs of an expanding population and in order to promote the preservation of, public access to, travel within, and enjoyment and appreciation of the open-air, outdoor areas and historic resources of the Nation.'' National Historic Trails such as the Lewis and Clark Trail, the Pony Express Trail, the Trail of Tears, and the Selma to Montgomery Trail were authorized as part of this system to identify and protect historic routes for public use and enjoyment and to commemorate major events which shaped American history. In my judgment, the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail is a fitting addition to the 13 national historic trails administered by the National Park Service.

Pursuant to legislation we enacted as part of the Fiscal 2006 Interior Appropriations Act, in September 2006 the National Park Service completed a detailed study which found that the trail meets all three criteria for designation as a national historic trail: it is nationally significant, has a documented route through maps or journals, and provides for recreational opportunities. Similar in historic importance to the Lewis and Clark National Trail, this new historic trail will inspire generations of Americans and visitors to follow Smith's journeys, to learn about the roots of our Nation, and to better understand the contributions of the Native Americans who lived within the bay region. Equally important, the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail will serve as a national outdoor resource by providing rich opportunities for education, recreation, and heritage tourism not only for more than 16 million Americans living in the bay's watershed but for visitors to this area. The water trail would allow voyagers in small boats, cruising boats, kayaks, and canoes to travel from the distant headwaters to the open bay--an accomplishment that will generate national and international attention and participation. The trail would complement the Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Watertrails Program and help highlight the bay's remarkable maritime history, its unique watermen and their culture, the diversity of its peoples, its historical settlements, and our current efforts to restore and sustain the world's most productive estuary.

This legislation enjoys strong bipartisan support in the Congress and in the States through which the trail passes. The trail proposal has been endorsed by the Governors of Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, and numerous local governments throughout the Chesapeake Bay region. The measure is also strongly supported by the National Geographic Society, the Conservation Fund, the Garden Club of America, the Izaak Walton League of America, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the Chesapeake Bay Commission as well as scores of businesses, tourism leaders, private groups, and intergovernmental bodies. I want to especially recognize and commend Patrick Noonan, chairman emeritus of the Conservation Fund, for his vision in conceiving this trail. I also want to thank the cosponsors of this measure, Senators Warner, Mikulski, Allen, Carper, Biden, Santorum, Specter, Representative Jo Ann Davis, and the cosponsors of the House companion measure, as well as the chairmen and ranking members of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources and the Subcommittee on National Parks. Finally, I want to recognize and thank Judy Pensabene and David Brooks of the Senate Energy Committee staff and Ann Loomis in Senator Warner's office for the tremendous assistance they provided in moving the measure forward.

The Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail Act comes at a very timely juncture to educate Americans about historical events that occurred 400 years ago right here in Chesapeake Bay, which were so crucial to the formation of this great country and our democracy. I urge my colleagues to support this measure.


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