The Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail was established on December 19, 2006, by Pub.L. 109–418 after a year of feasibility studies undertaken by the National Park Service and authorized by the United States Congress. Pressure to create the trail came from bipartisan legislation initially introduced in the Senate in August 2005. This suggestion rapidly gained support and was approved by the Subcommittee on National Parks in May 2006. The Senate Subcommittee's approval provoked a House companion bill, sponsored by Representative Jo Ann Davis and co-sponsored by 27 representatives, which was finally passed by the House on December 6, 2006, and by the Senate two days later. President George W. Bush signed the bill into law on December 19, 2006.
The bay-area water trail is part of the National Trails System and is administered by the National Park Service, in coordination with the Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Watertrails Network and the federal-state Chesapeake Bay Program.