In addition to being the resting place of old ships, Mallows Bay brings millions of dollars each year with the Bassmasters Tournament.

La Plata, MD – The National Marine Sanctuary at Mallows Bay-Potomac River is edging closer to becoming a reality.

Paul Orlando, Chesapeake Bay regional coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Office of National Marine Sanctuary told the Charles County Commissioners Jan. 10 making the area a national site is still about a year away. Orlando said there will be a public hearing on the proposed sanctuary in La Plata March 31. “It’s a thorough process,” he explained. “We liked the idea of keeping Potomac River. It puts the project on the map on a national scale.”

He added that there is tremendous potential for the county with the creation of the new sanctuary, which would be river-based only.

“This is something that needs to be hammered home,” Commissioner Ken Robinson [District 1 – D] noted.  “Every square mile of this sanctuary exists in the Potomac River. It’s a legitimate concern. This will not be on land. Citizens have also asked will there be a charge? There will not be a charge.”

The proposal calls for signage, port-o-potties and kayak/canoe access.

“The public wanted no adverse impact on recreational fishing or fossil collecting,” Orlando said. “They also wanted local businesses to have an opportunity to rent kayaks and such. We feel the plan we delivered does all of those things.”

There are three proposals, but Orlando said the plan recommended by the Office of National Marine Sanctuary encompassed 5 square miles of the river from Charles County across the Potomac to Virginia.

“If you’re going out on maritime heritage sites, we considered we may not be considering all of the assets and thought to consider boundary expansion,” he noted.

“Shipwrecks make up a lot of the cultural heritage sites,” Orlando said, noting that there are two World War II era ships that essentially drifted downriver from Mallows Bay.

There was also a tragedy: The Wallace Sapp, a steamboat lost to the river in 1873 which claimed 80 lives.

“We decided, if we’re creating a shipwreck site, let’s get all of the shipwrecks, places we can network into the itinerary for all of the access points,” he explained. “It would run from Mattawoman Creek to Route 301, then picks up some of the wrecks on the Virginia side.

“There are some shipwrecks unknown that haven’t been validated, so we didn’t include them,” he added.

“The draft management plan lays out all of the program: recreation, tourism, educational science and sanctuary,” Orlando noted. “A lot of what we hope for is already going on.

“Charles County is getting a big bump out of this,” he stressed. “This sanctuary is already putting Charles County on the map. Mallows Bay continues to drive people toward the county for this purpose.”

Orlando noted there is talk about a visitor’s center.

“This is a national brand, a national marine sanctuary,” he concluded. “It’s the same as a national park or national wildlife refuge, because it’s got that attraction to it.”

Contact Joseph Norris at joe.norris@thebaynet.com