5 Reasons to Love Wild and Scenic Rivers

3 Min. Read
5 Reasons to Love Wild and Scenic Rivers

A free-flowing and healthy river system provides clean water, habitat for wildlife, recreation opportunities and countless other benefits. In the U.S., some of our most pristine waterways with these qualities have been designated National Wild and Scenic Rivers to help protect them.

Wild and Scenic Rivers are precious not only because they may have been threatened by damming or dewatering, but also because they represent our deep natural heritage of free-flowing and wild rivers. These rivers provide more benefit to us and to the greater society if left in their natural form.

In 2018, America celebrated 50 years of setting aside these incredible waterways for the enjoyment of all. It started with eight rivers in 1968 and today the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act protects over 200 stretches of river in 40 states and even Puerto Rico. Here are just a few of the reasons you should be enjoying our Wild and Scenic Rivers…

1) Someone fought hard to protect them.

Local individuals and groups typically spend years campaigning to add a river to the coveted Wild and Scenic list. People have worked hard to share their love of these places, especially in remote regions where fewer visitors may have experienced the river. These rivers hold so much value that various individuals and groups likely dedicated decades to ushering the river through the legislative process. If these rivers inspire so much dedication, then they must be pretty special.

A man in a straw hat fly fishes from the banks of the Tuolumne River in California

2) All forms of wildlife find sanctuary in these rivers.

While humans may love cool, free-flowing rivers, many other animal species also appreciate the steady water source of a Wild and Scenic River. Since these rivers can’t be dewatered or dammed, wildlife such as rare birds, big game and endangered fish find homes within these watersheds. While the language of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act may only preserve the river’s actual water, the surrounding ecosystem hugely benefits. Often, the riparian forests are more intact and habitat for wildlife species is supreme.

3) Dedicated River Managers actively preserve the best features of these rivers.

Wild and Scenic Rivers are actively managed to protect their “outstanding remarkable values (ORVs).”  These ORVs are identified during the designation process and ensure that nothing special about the river is forgotten. Perhaps a river valley contains cultural relics from early Native Americans. The site will then be protected from damage. Endangered fish on a river? Their habitat will be safeguarded. Spectacular scenery? Less chance for an eyesore shopping mall from popping up within view. Great paddling? Access will be maintained.

5 Reasons to Love Wild and Scenic Rivers

4) You’ll find quality river recreation of every kind.

Playing on these rivers may be the best part of designation. You can experience dynamic whitewater rapids, pristine pools full of fish, or incredibly scenic corridors all preserved in their natural form. No dams to portage. No dewatering at any time. When we manage a river system for recreation along with other values (like fish and wildlife), the quality of the recreation improves. This means the experience will get better and we can enjoy these places in their most spectacular form for generations.

5) Wild and Scenic Rivers remind us of our nation’s shared culture of protecting our natural heritage.

Just as with visiting a national park, a trip down a Wild and Scenic River provides an intrinsic comfort that our society values places like this. We rest assured that this wild place will be protected as it is and that assurance enhances our immediate experience. It feels good to recognize that public lands provide actual value to us as individuals, but also to our greater culture, and the culture of the next generation. This unifying feeling reminds us that we can come together to protect public lands and waters as they become threatened.

Photos: Overlooking the Snake River through Hells Canyon – Timothy Blong; Tuolumne River fishing – James Kaiser; Boaters on the Illinois River – Adam Elliott

Susan Elliott

Susan has taught whitewater kayaking, guided rafts, researched river turbulence and sediment transport, paddled rivers in 7 countries, and written about her explorations along the way.

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