Credit: CC BY SA 2.0


Smith Island is one of two remaining inhabited islands in the Chesapeake Bay. It has about 275 year-round residents, some descended from the original settlers. Crabs and oysters define much of the island’s culture and livelihood. In the past several decades, Smith Islanders have faced significant challenges: declining population, stresses on its shellfish industry, failing infrastructure, and loss of land from sea level rise and erosion. In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, local residents, federal and state agencies, and county officials agreed to collaborate on a Vision Plan for Smith Island and hired CBI to help design and facilitate the community-driven process.


CBI mediators partnered with a senior planner at Horsley Witten Group to conduct an initial assessment through interviews with respected local leaders, business owners, watermen, and state government officials. The team then created a steering committee that would become the link to the rest of the community and the guiding hand in the visioning process. Based on a series of interactive community meetings, information from outside experts, and guidance from the steering committee, CBI and Horsley Witten drafted a plan that addressed Smith Islanders goals:

  • Preserve and grow the watermen culture
  • Build a stronger tourism economy
  • Work with state, county, and federal governments to tackle the erosion of its shores and wetlands
  • Improve access to transportation, health care, and Internet services
  • Maintain the island’s water supply and wastewater treatment facility as well as roads and bridges
  • Grow the island’s population by leveraging the uniqueness of the place to create real economic opportunities, good schools, and a welcoming culture


The Vision Plan has provided a foundation for investment, grants, and expanded leadership to help implement the action steps. Within two years, two major shoreline protection projects have been approved and funded; new interpretive signs have been put up to guide tourists through the island’s history; several annual events have been launched that attract visitors from beyond Maryland; and a new public park has been built.