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This is a working draft.  This is a dynamic toolkit - our goal is to update, evolve and improve over time.  Please provide us with your feedback on the toolkit.  Send us your ideas, success stories, examples, photos, events and more!  Please return soon for the most up-to-date version of the Toolkit after review.

Partnership Wild and Scenic River (PWSR)Toolkit Exploration

Are you ready to explore Partnership Wild and Scenic River Designation and see if it's right for your river?  For more general information regarding Wild and Scenic Rivers you may visit the National Park Service website on Partnership Wild and Scenic Rivers (PWSRs).  There are many resources available to you to understand the national Wild and Scenic River system.  This is a broad overview and can get complex, but I encourage you to utilize the links and resources provided throughout this Toolkit.  Remember that the process provides opportunities for education and enrichment throughout, this is not a quick fix for your river, but it is a significant long-term protection.

Here are the major questions addressed below:


There are many reasons why you may be interested in Wild and Scenic designation.  What piqued your interest in Wild and Scenic designation?

Why consider WSR designation?

 

The following is an exploration of Partnership Wild and Scenic River (PWSR) Designation.

What are these Partnership Wild and Scenic Rivers all about?

The Wild and Scenic Rivers System Overview

Here are some WSR videos.

First you'll need a little background about the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.  The National Wild and Scenic Rivers System was established in 1968 by Congress during a time of widespread dam building and hydroelectric development.  Have you heard that the Wild and Scenic River system is anti-renewable energy or anti-dam?  The PWSR system isn’t anti-dam, anti-hydro or anti-renewable energy.  There can even be existing dams near the Wild and Scenic River.  It is important to know the history of the Wild and Scenic Act, and why Wild and Scenic Rivers are meant to be protected in their free-flowing state from potentially harmful federal projects.  Though only around ¼ of 1% of U.S. rivers are protects by the Wild and Scenic Act, today more than 75,000 large dams across the country have modified at least 600,000 miles, or about 17%, of American rivers.

By the 1950s decades of damming, development and diversion had altered our country's rivers. During the 1960s the country began to recognize the damage we were inflicting on rivers and our wildlife, landscape, and drinking water.  Recognition of this fact finally led to action by Congress in 1968 to preserve the beauty, values, water quality and free-flowing nature of some of our waterways through the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.  This was followed closely by amendments to our Nation’s Clean Water Act in 1972 (first adopted in 1948).

Proposed by such environmental legends as John and Frank Craighead and Olaus Murie, and championed through Congress by the likes of Senators Frank Church and Walter Mondale, the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System was created by Congress in 1968 (Public Law 90-542; 16 U.S.C. 1271 et seq.) to preserve certain rivers with outstanding natural, cultural and recreational values in a free-flowing condition for the enjoyment of present and future generations.

Early WSR Designation

Middle Fork Clearwater, in Idaho 1968 – administered by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS)

One of the first rivers designated with the passage of the Act in 1968 was the Middle Fork Clearwater, in Idaho, designated as a recreation river.  Recreation rivers are managed for their high scenic quality but are readily accessible by road and may have development along their shores.  The Middle Fork Clearwater System was one of eight rivers designated in the 1968 Wild and Scenic Rivers legislation (P.L. 90-542). When introducing the bill on the Senate floor, Senator Frank Church, principal sponsor of the bill remarked that, “in areas of mountain-locked grandeur streams where the water still runs pure and free, we should seek to preserve our finest untamed streams by including them within a national rivers system.”  Designation of the Middle Fork System was in direct response to the proposed Penny Cliffs Dam located about 4 miles east of Kooskia, Idaho.

Both segments are classified as “recreational,” which recognizes that this section of river is readily accessible by road and may have some development along the shoreline.

As the agency responsible for managing this WSR, the Forest Service administers the river “in such manner as to protect and enhance the values which caused it to be included in said system without, insofar as is consistent therewith, limiting other uses that do not substantially interfere with public use and enjoyment of these values. In such administration primary emphasis shall be given to protecting its aesthetic, scenic, historic, archaeological and scientific features.”  Section 10(a) 1968 WSR Act.  A Resource Assessment completed for these Rivers (as part of the Snake River Adjudication) in February, 2002 clarified the outstandingly remarkable values as: scenery, recreation, fish, water quality, wildlife, vegetation/botany, prehistory, history and potentially traditional/cultural use. Some of those values that make this river corridor unique are inherently social.  More information may be found in this 2015 USFS document.

Wild and Scenic Rivers 50th Anniversary Logo

 50th Anniversary

 2018 marks the 50th Anniversary of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, and Partnership Rivers turn 25!  Participants all over the nation are celebrating our Nation’s outstanding rivers.  Check out the 50th Anniversary website to find information on upcoming events, to post public notice of an event you’re planning, to find a 50th anniversary toolkit to help you share your story, and more.

 

Toolkit Reference in PowerPoint  

How does the Partnership approach differ from other Wild and Scenic River models?

If you're still with us, you know a bit more about the WSR Act and would like to see how the Partnership approach to designation differs.  This is likely because you’re probably trying to protect a river bordered by private lands without losing private property rights or creating a national park through federal acquisition of lands.

 

WSR_PWSR Approach

Partnership Wild and Scenic Rivers (PWSRs) - Local Control, Limited Federal Role

The National Park Service, in collaboration with the River Management Society, recently completed a video that highlights three rivers designated under the Wild and Scenic Act through the partnership model.  This video, River Connections, is a helpful overview of the PWSR approach to designation, around 15 minutes in length and available on rivers.gov.  

Over 200 rivers nationwide are designated federally as Wild and Scenic; however, only 12 river systems in New England have been designated – with the most recent being the Taunton in Massachusetts in 2009 and the first in Vermont (Upper Missisquoi and Trout Rivers) designated in 2014.  This is partially due to the unique challenges faced by those seeking designation of rivers that predominantly flow through non-federal lands with multiple landowners.  Early Studies in northeastern rivers failed in part because it was unclear how to protect national river values on private lands without federal acquisition and management.  The federal system needed to figure out how to protect outstanding rivers and their values without ownership, and in coordination with local and state jurisdictions and local stakeholders and landowners.  The history of this challenge is described here.

In order to have Wild and Scenic designation in areas with private ownership and varied stakeholders, Congress has specified in some Wild and Scenic River designations that rivers are to be administered by the Secretary of the Interior through the National Park Service (NPS) in partnership with local governments, committees and non-governmental organizations, generally through the use of cooperative agreements.  The National Park Service role includes:  technical assistance in identifying and vetting the eligibility of your river (is it free-flowing, does it have outstanding values at the regional or national scale); attendance at public informational meetings to help explain the designation and address misconceptions; coordination with state or local governmental agencies on the study and designation, and more.  In these Partnership Wild and Scenic Rivers communities protect their own outstanding rivers and river-related resources through a collaborative approach with the NPS as one partner.

These Partnership Wild and Scenic Rivers are a subset of the national Wild and Scenic System and flow through land predominantly held in private ownership or lands owned by state and local governments.  This ownership is maintained regardless of designation.  Though this partnership model is available throughout the United States, PWSRs currently exist only in the east.  Twelve river systems in New England and one in Florida (Wekiva) are managed by this partnership process.  The National Park Service published a 20 Years of Success report detailing the successes of this approach to designation and celebrating the rivers designated under this model.

PWSR Characteristics


    

Who do I talk to as I explore WSR designation?

Consider inviting a National Park Service staff member to explore your river with you.  Click here to find a list of National Park Service Staff who work on Wild and Scenic Rivers. 

Some of the best resources are coordinators and committee members for current Partnership Wild and Scenic Rivers and River Studies.  The rivers.gov website has links to all of the designated PWSRs and those under study. 

 Partnership Wild and Scenic Rivers of the Northeast    Partnership Wild and Scenic Rivers of the Southeast

Current Wild and Scenic Rivers designated through the Partnership approach.  
Any river in the United States may be considered for Wild and Scenic designation.

 

Early rivers set the state for the Partnership Approach to designation

Upper Delaware PWSR NY, PA

The Upper Delaware River was designated in 1978 and was the first time local zoning protection rather than federal land acquisition was the primary protective strategy. Federal and local governments and stakeholders in two states (NY and PA) developed a management plan for the Upper Delaware River in coordination with a management council formed by the Delaware River Basin Commission (or DRBC) and the local communities However, unlike subsequent partnership designations, the cooperative management plan Key Point for the Upper Delaware was not prepared during the Wild and Scenic study process; it followed the extensive taking of private lands by federal condemnation for a proposed Army Corps of Engineers for a flood control and water supply dam.

Wildcat, NH

The Wildcat River, NH, was designated in 1998 and included a mix of public and private land. Key Point The management plan was written before designation, and a local management council was created for lands outside of the National Forest.

Osprey, Great Egg, Photo by Fred Akers 

The Great Egg Harbor River, NJ, was the first PWSR designated over 25 years ago in 1992 for its outstanding resources (ORVs) which included threatened and endangered species; resting, breeding and feeding areas for water fowl; rich history; recreation and scenic vistas.  A Comprehensive Management Plan was developed, which called for the creation of a River Council made up of the 12 local municipalities with acreage in the designated river corridor, and 1 member appointed from the Great Egg Harbor Watershed Association.  The purpose of the River Council is to assist municipalities in effectively implementing the Great Egg Harbor National Scenic and Recreational River Comprehensive Management Plan and Local River Management Plans with the National Park Service, and to coordinate among competing interests, always keeping in mind resource protection.  More information may be found on the website of the River Council.

 

Could my river quality for WSR status?

Rivers must be eligible and suitable for designation.  To be eligible for designation, a river must be free-flowing and possess one or more outstandingly remarkable values. Outstandingly remarkable values are river-dependent natural, cultural, or recreational resources that are unique, rare, or exemplary at a regional or national scale.  Rivers are suitable if the river’s free‐flowing character, water quality, and outstandingly remarkable values (ORVs) will be protected through designation, and that designation is found to be the best method for protecting the river corridor.

Many resources are available to help you determine whether your river might be eligible and suitable for designation.  Rivers on National Park Service lands that have been found to be eligible and suitable may be found on their website.  As Partnership Wild and Scenic Rivers are found to be in various ownership, the Nationwide Rivers Inventory (NRI) may be a useful resource.  Though this list is by no means exhaustive, river segments in the NRI may be eligible for Wild and Scenic River designation as they have been found to be free-flowing and have one or more outstandingly remarkable value (ORV).  They are mapped and described in the NRI.  Also available is the National Rivers Project which provides river recreation and management information.  This project is mapped in the National River Recreation Database.

 

How can I learn more about whether my river is eligible for designation?

Eligibility - Free-flowing with Outstandingly Remarkable Values (ORVs)

The WSR System is meant to protect free-flowing rivers with outstanding river values from any harmful effects of new, federally funded or permitted projects.  The Congressional declaration of policy in the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act (16 U.S.C. 1271-1287) states:

It is hereby declared to be the policy of the United States that certain selected rivers of the Nation which, with their immediate environments, possess outstandingly remarkable scenic, recreational, geologic, fish and wildlife, historic, cultural, or other similar values, shall be preserved in free-flowing condition, and that they and their immediate environments shall be protected for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations.  The Congress declares that the established national policy of dam and other construction at appropriate sections of the rivers of the United States needs to be complemented by a policy that would preserve other selected rivers or sections thereof in their free-flowing condition to protect the water quality of such rivers and to fulfill other vital national conservation purposes.

To be eligible as a Wild and Scenic River the river must be free-flowing and have at least one river resource called an Outstandingly Remarkable Value (ORV).  Free-flowing river segments are those that do not have an impoundment even if impoundments occur upstream or downstream.  ORVs are those locally recognized values which are river-related and unique, rare, or exemplary features that are significant at a comparative regional or national scale. 

The eligibility analysis consists of an examination of the river’s hydrology, including any man-made alterations, and an inventory of its natural, cultural, and recreational resource

 

My river has several old mill dams, could it still be considered for designation?

The short answer, yes!  Rivers designated as Wild and Scenic may be classified as recreational rivers, a classification that explicitly allows past damming and channel alterations as long as the river maintains a generally riverine appearance and function.

The WSR Act’s definition of “free‐flowing” is outlined in Section 16:  (b) “Free‐flowing”, as applied to any river or section of a river, means existing or flowing in natural condition without impoundment, diversion, straightening, rip‐rapping, or other modification of the waterway. The existence, however, of low dams, diversion works, and other minor structures at the time any river is proposed for inclusion in the national wild and scenic rivers system shall not automatically bar its consideration for such inclusion:  Provided, That this shall not be construed to authorize, intend, or encourage future construction of such structures within components of the national wild and scenic rivers system.

A river or river segment can be considered for designation if it is above or below a dam or is dependent on releases from a dam. Any section of river with flowing water, even if impounded upstream meets the definition of free‐flowing, as long as existing flows are sufficient to support flow‐dependent ORVs and water quality.

Classification

All rivers designated under the Act are considered Wild and Scenic Rivers.  Under this title of WSR designation, designated rivers are then classified as wild, scenic or recreational based not on their use, but on the amount of development and access along the river.  Part of the reason for having classifications is so that managing agencies and stakeholders can be sure that the rivers are protected in the condition at the time of designation.  Classifying the rivers allows management teams to monitor development and access along the river and make recommendations that help maintain the rivers at least in their original classification if not better.  The classifications, identified in the Act as follows, allow for designation even with some influence of impoundments.  The free-flowing condition may be currently in existence or the condition upon restoration.  The classifications in the WSR Act allow for flexibility in the type of development the river under consideration has sustained. 

Wild River Areas – Those rivers or sections of rivers that are free of impoundments and generally inaccessible except by trail, with watersheds or shorelines essentially primitive and waters unpolluted. These represent vestiges of primitive America.

Snake River by Steven Brutger Trout Unlimited 

Most rivers have segments with more than one classification.  For example, the Headwaters of the Snake River in Wyoming, which is managed by the U.S. Forest Service in the Bridger-Teton National Forest on the boundary of the Grand Teton National Park has 236.9 miles classified as wild; 141.5 miles classified as scenic; and 33.8 miles classified as recreational for a total of 412.2 miles.  The Snake River Headwaters is a high quality snowmelt-dominated watershed.  Even a river segments such as these, arguably the definition of primitive America have some evidence of alteration within its reaches.  According to the management plan, one of the wild segments of this designated area extends from the Snake River headwaters northeast of Fox Park in Yellowstone National Park to the South Entrance of Yellowstone offers exemplary opportunities for extended backcountry hiking, horse pack trips, and trout fishing.  Though the Snake River below Jackson Lake is influenced by Jackson Lake Dam operations, this does not preclude some segments of this designated area to be classified as wild.

Scenic River Areas – Those rivers or sections of rivers that are free of impoundments, with shorelines or watersheds still largely primitive and shorelines largely undeveloped, but accessible in places by roads.

Musconetcong Restoration Photo by Alan Hunt

The Musconetcong River in New Jersey has 3.5 miles classified as scenic; and 20.7 miles classified as recreational for a total of 24.2 designated miles.  This River was designated under the collaborative Partnership process and is managed by the National Park Service.  The Musconetcong Management Plan describes the segment from Saxton Falls to Rt. 46 Bridge, classified as scenic, as a largely primitive, undeveloped river corridor through state and municipal parklands.  Land use along the river corridor from Saxton Falls to Hackettstown is primarily parkland and low density residential, with around 72% of the river corridor lands within the Allamuchy Mountain State Park.  Though the Park roads and nearby single-family residential development exists, these segments of the Musconetcong River are not impounded, and mostly protected by Park management practices.

Recreational River Areas – Those rivers or sections of rivers that are readily accessible by road or railroad, that may have some development along their shorelines, and that may have undergone some impoundment or diversion in the past (more information may be found at www.rivers.gov).

Lamprey River, NH

The Lamprey River in New Hampshire has 23.5 miles designated, all classified as recreational.  This River was designated under the collaborative Partnership process and is managed by the National Park Service.  The Lamprey Management Plan indicates the need to strike a balance among protecting this recreational river “as an ecosystem, maintaining legitimate community uses, and respecting the interests and property rights of those who own its shorelands.”  At the time of Study, there was an active impoundment (the Wiswall dam) that is a small run-of-river dam.  Because the dam does not completely impound the river, the dam does not prevent the river from meeting the generally riverine appearance necessary for designation of a river under the recreational classification.  There was a segment of the Lamprey River under study from the Piscassic River to the Macallen Dam that was impacted by the Macallen dam that is was not considered free-flowing and therefore not included in the segments designated under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.  During a Study stakeholders may come together to assess and discuss any existing impoundments in the Study area.  Those that do not impact the free-flowing nature of the river may be included in the designated area, or they may be excluded from designation as in the case of the Missisquoi River in Vermont.
The Missisquoi River had two major dams on the mainstem of the River in the area under consideration in the Study.  At the request of the dam owners, and after consideration by the Study Committee and the National Park Service these dams, and the areas impacted by their impoundments, were excluded from the reaches designated as a Partnership Wild and Scenic River in 2014.  Find out more in the Suitability Chapter of the 2014 Study Report & Environmental Assessment.

 

The Story Map produced by the National Park Service has a nice overview of WSRs and their eligibility for designation.

 

What are ORVs? 

What are your river’s outstanding qualities or ORVs?

Chances are that if you are thinking about Wild and Scenic designation for your river there is something that you feel makes it special.  What is that resource?  Is it river related?  Can you make the case that it is special in your State, region or country?  If you answered yes to these questions, then you likely have at least one Outstandingly Remarkable Value (ORV) that would add support to the eligibility of your river for Wild and Scenic designation.

“Outstandingly Remarkable Values” (ORVs) are outstanding river resources that are identified during the Study process, and listed in the Management Plan and Study Report.  To be eligible for designation at least one ORV must be present.Key PointOur U.S. rivers are endowed with many outstanding values, so the job of the Study Committee is to determine which of these are river-related values that are rare, unique, or exemplary at a regional or national scale.  These river resources contribute to the overall eligibility of a river for designation.  Not all river reaches in the study area need to support all noted outstanding values, but these values must:

Be located in the river or within ¼ mile on either side of the river
Contribute sustainably to the functioning of the river ecosystem; and/or
Owe its location or existence to the presence of the river

These resources typically fall into the following categories:

ORV Categories

ORVs may overlap into multiple categories, or have a category not included above.  Some rivers even include exceptional water quality as an ORV since the water quality in a watershed has a direct impact on these outstanding river values for which the rivers are eligible for designation, and should be protected as such.  

Substantial research is conducted prior to and during the Study to identify outstanding river values and note the significance of the resources within a state-wide and regional context by means of consultations with experts and professionals.  The National Park Service provides technical assistance during this process to ensure that the identification and characterization of potential ORVs would form an adequate basis to establish defined ORVs for the purpose of potential Wild and Scenic River designation. 

More information may be found on this NPS fact sheet on outstanding river resources, and ORVs are covered more in depth in the Study portion of this Toolkit.

Is my river suitable for WSR designation?

Would my river be suitable for designation?

Suitability - rivers would benefit from designation, and have community support to protect them

The final step in the river assessment process for Wild and Scenic designation is the determination of suitability.  This step provides the basis for:  determining which rivers should be recommended for addition to the National System and a Federal Agency’s recommendation to Congress.

Community support for designation is key to the suitability of the PWSRs.  Community support may be shown in several different ways depending on the local governance in the communities under which designation is being studied.

In 1995, members of the Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Forest Service established an interagency council to address administration of National Wild and Scenic Rivers. The Interagency Wild and Scenic Rivers Coordinating Council developed criteria for suitability of rivers considered for inclusion in the Wild and Scenic Rivers system.

  1. Should the river’s free‐flowing character, water quality, and Outstandingly Remarkable Values (ORVs) be protected, or are one or more other uses [e.g., issuance of a hydro license] important enough to warrant doing otherwise?
  2. Will the river’s free‐flowing character, water quality, and ORVs be protected through designation? Is designation the best method for protecting the river corridor?
  3. Is there a demonstrated commitment to protect the river by any nonfederal entities that may be partially responsible for implementing protective management?

The National Park Service created additional questions to ascertain the suitability of Partnership Wild and Scenic Rivers.

  1. Are existing protection measures adequate to conserve the river’s outstanding resources without the need for federal land acquisition or federal land management?
  2. Is there an existing or proposed management framework that will bring the key river interests together to work toward the ongoing protection of the river?
  3. What local support exists for river protection and national designation?
  4. What would the effects of designation be on the land use, water base, and resources associated with the river, the neighboring communities, etc.?

These findings of suitability are typically based on analysis of existing local, state, federal and non-regulatory protections applicable to the rivers which are found to adequately protect the rivers consistent with the purposes of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. The Management Plan developed as part of the Study should provide an appropriate management framework for the long term management and protection of the waterways. The official record of endorsement from local citizens, local governing bodies, and local and regional organizations should demonstrate substantial support for designation under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act based on the Partnership Wild and Scenic Rivers model.

Ways to show community support 

This question, demonstrating local support for river protection and national designation, is perhaps one of the most time-consuming parts of a Partnership Wild and Scenic Study.  If a river under Study runs through predominantly federal lands, the federal managing agency may decide in-house whether or not they support designation for the river, and then write this decision into the Study Report.  In a Partnership Wild and Scenic River much of the education and outreach during the Study revolves around what designation is and combating misconceptions around the Wild and Scenic Act so that community members may make an informed decision regarding designation.  The National Park Service traditionally does not seek designation without the support of the local communities through which the rivers flow.  In New England, where most of the Partnership Wild and Scenic Rivers are designated, Study Committees have demonstrated support for designation in two ways:

  1. Through a vote of the governing body of the municipality (a Town or City Council, Selectboard, etc.).  Designation and the Management Plan written during the Study are voted on by this governing body, and the National Park Service, or other advisory agency, utilizes the input from this vote to inform whether or not the rivers are suitable for designation
  2. Through a vote of the eligible voters in the municipality (an item on a local ballot or warrant article at a Town Meeting).   Designation and the Management Plan written during the Study are voted on by anyone who participates in the election or Town Meeting for which designation is on the ballot, and the National Park Service, or other advisory agency, utilizes the input from this vote to inform whether or not the rivers are suitable for designation. 
Example from the York River, Maine currently under Study
The York River Study took place in four communities in Maine over several years.  During this Study the Study Committee sought information from stakeholders and provided outreach and education on the York River to the surrounding communities on the river, its resources, and Wild and Scenic designation.  On November 6, 2018, voters in York and Eliot, Maine will decide at their Town Meetings whether to pursue a Partnership Wild and Scenic River designation for the York River and accept the accompanying York River Watershed Stewardship Plan.  In York, it was Article #2 on the ballot (Shall the town accept the committee's York River Watershed Stewardship Plan?), and in Eliot it was Article #10 on the ballot (Shall the town endorse the York River Study Committee's recommendation to seek Partnership Wild and Scenic River designation?).  Community approvals - a majority of 'YES' votes on these warrant articles - are required for Congress to consider a Partnership Wild and Scenic River designation.  
Wording on ballot measures vary according to what is appropriate for the municipalities.  In Vermont, the following warrant article was up for vote at each of the Town Meetings:  To see if the voters of the Town of insert town name will petition the Congress of the United States of America that the upper Missisquoi and Trout Rivers be designated as Wild and Scenic Rivers with the understanding that such designation would be based on the locally‐developed rivers Management Plan and would not involve federal acquisition or management of lands.
Voters in York and Eliot, Maine voted to move forward with Wild and Scenic designation of the York River.  Next, the Study Committee will bring the measure to vote at the Kittery and South Berwick have Town Councils.  The governance of these municipalities, and thus the vote, will fall to the Councils that will vote on resolutions at upcoming Town Council meetings.  Following these votes, the Study Committee and National Park Service will assess the results, and then make a decision on whether the eligible York River is also suitable for Wild and Scenic designation.

If rivers are found both suitable and eligible for designation then your local representatives to U.S. Congress can submit a bill to change the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act to include the rivers for designation.

Eligibility and Suitability help

Still questioning?  Here’s an overview:

In summary, the Wild and Scenic Rivers (WSR) Act of 1968 seeks to preserve rivers that “possess outstandingly remarkable scenic, recreational, geologic, fish and wildlife, historic, cultural, or other similar values.”   Wild and Scenic river designation is based upon these Outstandingly Remarkable Values (ORVs) and the free-flowing nature of your river.

A nationally significant resource (ORV) would be rare, unique, or exemplary at a national scale. For example, a recreational boating experience that draws visitors from all over the nation would qualify as a nationally significant recreational resource.  The area, region, or scale of comparison is not fixed, and should be defined as that which serves as a basis for meaningful comparative analysis.

A river may qualify for a given resource value based upon an aggregate of important values, no one of which would confer eligibility standing alone. For example, a series of unusual and distinctive river related geologic features may together qualify a segment as exhibiting an “outstandingly remarkable geologic value” even though no one element meets the criteria alone.

The Act intentionally does not clearly define ORVs, because they should be unique to each river and determined during the Study period.  While the range of resources that may be included as an ORV is broad, all values should be river-related.  Categories may include natural, historical, cultural, scenic, or recreational qualities.  Though rivers have many valuable resources, in order to be an ORV the Wild and Scenic Act states that the resource “should:

1)  Be located in the river or on its immediate shorelands (generally within ¼ mile on either side of the river);
2)  Contribute substantially to the functioning of the river ecosystem; and/or
3)  Owe their location or existence to the presence of the river.”

(For more information about ORVs and the part they play in the federal designation process, see the National Parks Service 1999 online document entitled The Wild and Scenic River Study Process.) 

During a Study a Comprehensive River Management Plan is written by a local Study Committee with technical assistance from the National Park Service or other federal agency.  This plan may be used regardless of designation or the outcome of the Study, and presents a series of recommendations that can be voluntarily implemented by area residents, riverfront landowners, local municipalities, and partnership state and federal agencies to help protect the river-related resources identified during the Study.  The Plan includes detailed information about National Wild and Scenic River designation through the Partnership approach including classifications of the segments proposed for designation.

Wood-Pawcatuck River  

“Partnership rivers are about empowering local communities to manage…” - Denise Poyer, Wood-Pawcatuck River Study Coordinator

Classification

As described above, part of the suitability process is the exploration of the classifications under which the river segments proposed for designation would fall.  Designated rivers are classified as wild, scenic or recreational based not on their use, but on the amount of development and access along the river.  This is an objective analysis to characterize the river at the time of designation.  With designation, the classification must not decline.  The classifications identified in the Act are as follows:

  • Wild River Areas – Those rivers or sections of rivers that are free of impoundments and generally inaccessible except by trail, with watersheds or shorelines essentially primitive and waters unpolluted. These represent vestiges of primitive America.
  • Scenic River Areas – Those rivers or sections of rivers that are free of impoundments, with shorelines or watersheds still largely primitive and shorelines largely undeveloped, but accessible in places by roads.
  • Recreational River Areas – Those rivers or sections of rivers that are readily accessible by road or railroad, that may have some development along their shorelines, and that may have undergone some impoundment or diversion in the past (www.rivers.gov).

The Story Map produced by the National Park Service has a nice overview of WSRs and their eligibility for designation.

If a river is found eligible, then it must also be suitable for designation for the National Park Service to recommend designation to Congress.  One factor demonstrating suitability is the support of local communities for designation.  This may be demonstrated in several ways, but typically includes a vote in each municipality on the recommendations in the Management Plan written during the Study. 

Sound confusing? Much work has already been done.  The National River Inventory, NRI, is a great starting point for you to think about the eligibility of your river.  Is your river on the NRI?  If yes, then your river is likely eligible for and a potential candidate for inclusion in the National Wild and Scenic River System. Not on the NRI?  Don't worry the NRI is not exhaustive, and your river may still be eligible for a Study.

 

Do I want a WSR Study?

The Study of a Partnership River begins with a community-based process which includes the formation of a Study Committee made up of local appointees and partnership organizations which studies designation.  This is typically in conjunction with a local non-profit, such as a watershed organization, that coordinates the Study locally.  The Studies are typically a partnership of organizations and official appointees from the Study towns who have been locally appointed, often by Selectboards, Town Councils, City Councils, or equivalent who volunteer their time to represent their communities for the typical three year Study.  Study Committees recognize the importance of privately-owned rivers with established and continuing local control of river management.  Their goal is to bring community members together in identifying, protecting, managing and potentially enhancing local river resources.  Partnership River Studies such as the VT Study:

  • do not rely on federal land ownership or management
  • rely on local and state regulations and management as before designation
  • are facilitated by a locally appointed Study Committee which helps implement designation of the rivers along with assistance from state, town, and federal partners (should designation occur a Post-designation Advisory Committee would be established to do the same)
  • requires no establishment of a national park or superintendent or law enforcement agent from the National Park Service – the Study Committee works with a NPS liaison who provides expertise and Study funding
  • does not require purchase or transfer of lands to the NPS
  • succeeds through voluntary education, outreach, and management efforts and local support

Management Plan Useful

Study Process Overview:
Key PointA key aspect of the PWSR process is that the Study runs just like the ultimate designation would; the protections that come with WSR designation are in place temporarily during the study.  This allows the Study to be a trial run of designation during which stakeholders can test the waters of designation.  Local communities will vet the “fit” of the PWSR model through the development of the Comprehensive River Management Plan (CRMP).  The process of recommendations in the plan will be important even if no designation occurs.  The Study provides a process for answering questions and building local support for designation should it be sought.  The NPS will not recommend designation at end of Study unless supported by the local communities in which designation is under consideration.

Ask these in early exploration

Study Benefits

  • The Study itself brings recognition to your river, and requires the creation of a locally-appointed Study Committee to research the river’s suitability and eligibility for designation.
  • The Study requires the completion of a Management Plan for your river, including a public comment period.  This is a non-regulatory Plan summarizing the information collected over the three year study by the locally appointed Study Committee, often illustrating examples of management success stories in our region, outstanding river values, assessment of protections and threats to the river, assessment of free-flowing nature, illustrating levels of recreational use and encouraging the voluntary recommendations which the Study Committee feels will maintain the river in a healthy condition.  This Management Plan may be used regardless of designation. 
  • The Management Plan ensures voters know in advance how river will be managed under designation.
  • The Study allows a “trial run” of designation for stakeholders, this includes temporary protections as the river would receive after designation.
  • Once a Study is authorized by Congress, the cost of the Study is typically entirely covered by the National Park Service.  
Study is Trial Run

Please see the Study section of this Toolkit for more information on the Study process.

How long is the Study process? 

How long does this process take?

The Study process for Wild and Scenic designation requires commitment from stakeholders who need to be prepared for a sustained commitment.  The Study itself typically takes three years; however, the entire process literally requires acts of Congress that take time. 

  • Congress authorizes one of the river-managing agencies to conduct a Study (if the river is not on federal land, then the agency is often the NPS)
  • Agency reports findings back to Congress in a Study Report and Environmental Assessment
  • Congress authorizes legislation (or doesn’t) to designate a river 

 

Here is an example timeline from the Missisquoi and Trout Rivers Study in Vermont.

VTWSR Study Timeline

Here is another example timeline from the Lower Farmington River and Salmon Brook Study in Connecticut.

Lower Farmington & Salmon Brook Study Timeline

Check Out The Study