June is Get Outdoors Month, and a perfect opportunity to check out a new park or trail you’ve wanted to visit, or return to a perennial favorite! Across the Chesapeake Bay region, we’re blessed with an abundance of beautiful natural spaces to explore, from Chesapeake waterways to Appalachian forests. Maybe you’ll plan to visit your local park, a State park, or water launch point you haven’t recently - but, wherever you go, chances are that the lands or waters you enjoy exploring are public access. 

Public access refers to the ability of the public to get to and then use natural areas, such as parks, trails, waterways, and other outdoor recreation areas. Public access also includes the usability of an area, so, if its trails and facilities are maintained, safe, and accessible. For example, a park could be established, but may not have accessible or maintained trails, diminishing its access to the public. Actions like paving or establishing maintenance for the trail could improve its public access. A park with strong public access may have paved trails, allowing access for mobility limited people and those with strollers, ample facilities, and good maintenance practices, among other features. 

Throughout the Chesapeake Bay region, different areas have different amounts of public access points and areas. For example, urban areas may not have as much access to trails or waterways, and in rural areas, public access points may be further apart. Likewise, in areas where much of the shoreline is privately owned, public access to the water can be limited. Public access points are important, as they allow people the opportunity to get outdoors, connect with nature, exercise, and reap the numerous benefits that come from spending time in nature. Likewise, public access can help foster a culture of environmental stewardship. When people have the opportunity to experience nature firsthand, they are more likely to value and protect it.  This connection is essential for the conservation of Maryland’s ecosystems, ensuring that future generations can enjoy the same natural beauty. And, congregations have a role to play in the work of ensuring that there is ample public access throughout the Chesapeake Bay region. 

Congregations can advocate for policies that establish additional public access points. Attending public meetings, writing to your local and state representatives, and keeping an eye out for legislation that affects public access are great ways to get involved. Using public parks and letting your elected and local officials know how they’ve impacted you can help underscore their importance, and bring home the value they bring to communities. Additionally, you can reach out to IPC and let us know your advocacy priorities! 

Another great way that congregations can help ensure that folks have public access in their neighborhood is by establishing their own park, or allowing folks to enjoy natural spaces on their grounds. St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Anne Arundel County has established their “Restoration of Nature” project, a 4-acre oasis located in the densely populated Eastport peninsula. The restoration includes sprawling trails, and multiple points where community members can access the project. In Baltimore, Stillmeadow Community Fellowship has established their “PeacePark”, 10-acres of urban forest that community members are invited to enjoy. Stillmeadow Community Fellowship has invested in creating the park and restoring the forest within it, planting around 2,800 trees, establishing a composting program, and transforming their front lawn into a pollinator garden.

“I don’t know how to change the  country. I don’t know how to change the world. But I do know how to have an impact in my neighborhood, where my parish is.” ~ Stillmeadow Community Fellowship Pastor Michael Martin

Your congregation can also celebrate Get Outdoors Month by organizing a walk in a local park, cleaning up a waterway, planting a tree, or another outdoor activity. However you choose to honor Get Outdoors Month, we hope you get the chance to enjoy the beautiful land and waterscapes that the Chesapeake has to offer!