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Future Wild & Scenic Rivers

Future Wild & Scenic Rivers

By Susan Elliott, Wild River Life

Sure, there are over 200 rivers across the country that our nation has decided to protect as Wild and Scenic. Rivers like the Middle Fork Salmon, one of the most popular multi-day rafting trips in the world, or the Appalachian classic Chattooga River, featured in the movie Deliverance and one of the longest free-flowing rivers in the Southeast. Yet, Wild and Scenic Rivers make up less than 1% of our waterways, even after 50 years since the signing of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act in 1968. Our representatives signed the Act into law to create a balance between development and conservation. As we look back for this year’s 50th anniversary of that day, we can easily see that 1% is no balance.

That’s why we chose to visit “Future” Wild & Scenic Rivers on our Wild River Life tour. These are the protected rivers for the next generation, because we want the next generation to see more of a balance between pristine, wild rivers and de-watered or dammed-up channels.

With our friends at American Whitewater, the amazing non-profit organization that helps to conserve and restore rivers as well as help the public recreate on them safely, we visited three rivers we hope to see as a part of the Wild and Scenic system soon.

Sol Duc River, WA
Wild Olympics Campaign

Many rivers on the Olympic Peninsula are famous for their healthy salmon runs and the Sol Duc is no exception. At Salmon Cascade, a falls that only a few hearty souls will descend in a kayak, Coho salmon can be seen leaping from the pool to migrate toward spawning grounds in the headwaters. The Sol Duc is one of the only rivers on the Olympic Peninsula to support all five major species of salmon. With easy access and quality class III – IV boulder gardens and ledge drops, intermediate boaters will quickly learn that the river may be the best way to experience the diverse temperate rainforest ecosystem of this area.

While the Olympic Peninsula may be one of the most iconic outdoor recreation destinations on the West Coast, and much of this pristine landscape is now protected in the National Park and National Forest, the rivers remain vulnerable. Locals began organizing and standing up in support of the increased recreation economy and the increased quality of life their local wild rivers provide. They wanted to conserve these valuable ecosystems and the rivers that supported them.

The Wild Olympics Campaign proposes Wild & Scenic designation for nineteen rivers and their major tributaries all radiating out from the peninsula’s high elevation core. The proposal also includes the addition of 122,661 acres of protected land. These efforts would permanently protect this world-class outdoor recreation, the peninsula’s ancient forested watersheds, and the healthy rivers feeding this wild and wonderful place.

North Fork of the Blackfoot River, MT
Montanans for Healthy Rivers campaign

Montanans’ fondness for their rivers is no secret. The state loves its world-class trout fishing and great paddling opportunities, not to mention the high quality drinking water and water resources for irrigation and industry. These healthy headwaters may be pristine now, but development threats loom ahead that could cripple these resources both within Montana and farther downstream in other states.

The North Fork of the Blackfoot River is one of these pristine watersheds. Flowing from the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex, this mountain stream cascades over large boulders that attract fishermen and women as well as paddlers – if they are willing to walk there. A road leads to the trail alongside the river. To really experience the river, however, you’ll have to walk along it. We packed our packrafts in for a 4 mile hike up the stream and a 5 mile paddle-out on the magical bright turquoise water.

It is no surprise then that a coalition of Montana citizens, sportsmen, businesses, and conservationists have come together to request Wild & Scenic protection for more of their rivers. Currently, only the Flathead (North, Middle and South Forks) and the Missouri River are protected as Wild & Scenic. The state has not seen any new designations since 1976. Today, the Montanans for Healthy Rivers coalition has drafted a citizen’s proposal to add nearly 700 miles of river to the system. The North Fork Blackfoot contributes nearly twenty-three miles of healthy and beautiful river to that total.

Nolichucky River, NC
Citizens for the Nolichucky

Dams and diversions block many rivers in the Southeast, which makes the Nolichucky River extra special. The Noli, as locals call it, still responds dynamically to changes in the weather and seasons. Floods occur after large storm events while lower water can be enjoyed in late summer. These natural fluctuations help to sustain diverse wildlife populations, transport vital nutrients downstream, and provide a variety of habitat for fish. Local communities increasingly depend upon that natural flow cycle and the recreation economy that comes with it.

A Wild & Scenic designation would mean that these benefits would be there for that next generation. The grassroots support for the river’s protection shows that local residents understand that a Wild & Scenic designation preserves the river in its current state. It does not change or regulate what they can do with their land. If anything, it helps them to protect the values that make their community special.

How can I help?

There are lots of ways to take action for protecting more rivers this year. Like helping American Whitewater inform land management agencies about our favorite rivers and their Outstanding Remarkable Values so that they can include more of these waterways on their list of eligible Wild & Scenic Rivers. You can always write your Congressional Representatives and tell them that you support Wild & Scenic River protections, such as the East Rosebud Wild and Scenic Rivers Act (S. 501 and H.R. 4645) or Wild Olympics Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers Act (S. 483 and H.R. 1285). Of course, you should always take action by getting out and recreating. Add a trip to a Wild & Scenic River to your adventure list for the year and feel the thrill of paddling, experience the beauty, and enjoy the water of a Wild & Scenic river for yourself.