MD tourism leaders seek to link Chesapeake Bay destinations with passenger ferry


MARYLAND – Have you ever wanted to eat breakfast in Annapolis, grab lunch in Saint Michaels, and round out the day with dinner in Crisfield? How about taking in all that those communities have to offer, while enjoying scenic views on the Chesapeake Bay as you move between them?

That dream could become a reality, if Visit Annapolis & Anne Arundel County’s (VAAAC) plan to create a Chesapeake Bay passenger ferry system comes to fruition.

“We’ve been talking a lot about how travel transforms lives. You have a different experience at all of these places,” said VAAAC Executive Director, Kristen Pironis. “What we’re finding is, not just do people want travel; they want the experience. The experience isn’t just going to each of those locations. The experience is also being on the water. It’s a sense of history, and it’s timeless.”

Request For Proposal

VAAAC has teamed up with Calvert, Queen Anne’s, Somerset, and St. Mary’s Counties to study the feasibility of a passenger ferry system on the Bay. The study was accelerated by a $125,000 Local Technical Assistance matching grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration in October, 2022.

“We really want them to look at the destinations that we’re thinking about, and to see if they’re ready to accept a passenger ferry,” said Pironis. “The infrastructure related to [car ferries] is quite a bit different than passenger ferries. So, we’re really looking to move people from destination to destination.”

Pironis says the request for proposals will help project organizers figure out the best way to take next steps.

“We’ve got to get this part right. If this feasibility study is, in fact, feasible, then we go to the next step. There’s a lot of interest, and funding available out there right now,” said Pironis. “We’re going to have the right partners going forward, because we definitely need ferry operators, and all of that to be part of the process.”

Finding Funding

Another important part of the study, will investigate how the ferry system would be funded.

“That’s the operating model that we look to, to see if we can even afford to do this. Is it something that can make money, is sustainable, and makes sense?” said Pironis. “If we find that it can be feasible with an operating model, then we have a bunch more steps to go through. But, this is really that first wicket to get through.”

Pironis says project organizers are not ruling out asking the Maryland General Assembly for help; but only after they have all the information they will need to present to lawmakers.

“The other members of the consortium are very involved and are experts in their areas,” said Pironis. “Together, we’re much stronger, and I think that’s why Anne Arundel County is so excited to be a part of this.”

Calling on Crisfield

Crisfield is just one local destination that ferry-riders could visit. Somerset County Recreation, Parks, and Tourism Director, Clint Sterling says connecting Crisfield with other Bay towns would be invaluable.

“The value of this project, and one of the really exciting things, is the partnership we have with the four other counties that are involved,” said Sterling. “Our job is to increase visibility for the area, and to increase visitation in the area. And so, to be a part of a state-wide project, using the Bay as a connector, it’s a no-brainer.”

While Crisfield is in the project’s spotlight, Sterling considers it an initiative encompassing all of Somerset County. “Quite simply, you have to go through the entire county to get to Crisfield to get on a boat to go points West and vice versa,” he said.

As Somerset County gathers information for its proposal, Sterling says ensuring Crisfield is ready to welcome a passenger ferry is crucial.

“What’s key here is how the infrastructure that we have that’s available presently would work for a project like this. Certainly, in Crisfield, at the city dock we’re handling boats daily,” said Sterling.

Economic Opportunity Abound

Sterling says this project could be a gamechanger for Marlyand; but also predicts that its impacts will stretch far beyond state lines, into the rest of the Mid-Atlantic region.

“When [visitors] are on foot, they’re bringing just a few things. And, one of those things would be some cameras and wallets. They’re going to take pictures, and share their experience here,” said Sterling. “We’re all experts in our own areas. But, to pull this together in a statewide initiative – points north, south, east, and west – that has been a complete benefit.”

A passenger ferry system on the Chesapeake Bay could be a major economic driver for Somerset County as well, says Sterling.

“We want to use our available resources, and some things that we could potentially lean into, to support the taxpayers of the county, and our tourism partners who are running restaurants and shops, visitations, and tours,” said Sterling.

Working Together

While VAAAC is taking the lead on the project, Pironis says collaboration from each consortium member will launch the vision forward. “I want to be really clear, without the consortium, we would not be a part of this. The consortium is what makes it interesting and exciting,” she said.

And, some of that collaboration and guidance could from a previous era. Pironis recently found, and purchased, a pamphlet from 1993, advertising ferry routes on the Chesapeake Bay.

“It’s so exciting to see what their routes were, what their fares were, what they were able to experience,” said Pironis. “I think that we have even more to offer now. So, I guess we’re capitalizing on a time when people want experiences, and they want to be part of the communities.”

Meanwhile, Sterling says Somerset County officials are thrilled to be on board for the ride.

“We know that we’ve got a long way to go. There’s no guarantees on anything,” said Sterling. “But, our message has always been you’ve got to be around to have a shot. We’re around.”

Looking Ahead

It’s important to note that this project is still in its very early stages. Consortium members have until February 15th to submit their proposals. From there, Pironis says next steps will be determined. To read VAAAC’s request for proposals on the project, click here.

Categories: Local News, Maryland, Money