Keeping America’s Rivers Wild for 50 Years and Beyond
Welcome to our series of “Call to Action” guest blog posts from the incredible nonprofit organizations we work with. Who better to dive into the important issues highlighted in our digital Call to Action phone booth than the groups leading the effort to take action for better, day after day. Read on to learn more, and then let your representatives know where you stand. Our digital Call to Action phone booth makes it easy and quick to make your voice heard.
By Evan Stafford, American Whitewater
Blinded by the sun’s glistening reflection off the water’s jade green surface, I struggled to peer back upstream at the towering peaks of the headwaters from which we’d just traversed. I imagined the tiny drops of snowmelt at the top of the watershed gathering to eventually form the beautifully pulsating flow we’d rode through the wilderness.
As I basked in the free-flowing, clean and untrammeled nature of the river, I reflected on the notion that without the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, Idaho’s Salmon River could have easily fallen victim to any number of dam proposals. Instead of spending a week exploring the natural beauty, hot springs, archeology, and surging high-water rapids of the Middle Fork and Main Salmon Rivers, I might have been floating motionless on the surface of a flatwater reservoir. All of the river’s treasures buried beneath its depths.
Just like the combined force of the tiny drops of snowmelt gathering to eventually form the powerful flow of the Salmon River, 50 years ago it took the combined weight of voices from across the river community to secure a national system for the preservation of our country’s quickly disappearing pristine and free-flowing rivers.
Just like the combined force of the tiny drops of snowmelt gathering to eventually form the powerful flow of the Salmon River, 50 years ago it took the combined weight of voices from across the river community to secure a national system for the preservation of our country’s quickly disappearing pristine and free-flowing rivers. In the 1960s, recognition was spreading that if we didn’t step up to protect our rivers, it wouldn’t be long before some type of development affected every river in the nation. Paddlers stepped up in a big way and were critical instigators, working with leaders in the national river conservation community to successfully develop and support what would become the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. Fighting to keep rivers free-flowing was a natural extension of American Whitewater's founding principles, one of which was to, "encourage the exploration, enjoyment, and preservation of America’s recreational waterways for human-powered craft.”
American Whitewater Communications Director Evan Stafford launching into Dagger Falls on the Wild and Scenic Middle Fork Salmon River (ID) and discovering Legend Creek Pictographs on the Main Salmon River (ID). Photos by Kyle McCutchen (l) and Evan Stafford (r).
INSPIRING A NATIONAL SYSTEM OF RIVER PRESERVATION
American Whitewater formed in 1954 when leaders from local paddling clubs across the country came together to promote the safe enjoyment and protection of our nation's whitewater resources. Our founders promoted a forward-thinking vision for river conservation. In 1958, American Whitewater founder Wolf Bauer detailed his trip in folding kayaks down the Cowlitz River Canyon in a full-color story for the Seattle Times Sunday Magazine, chronicling the scenic beauty of the deep bedrock canyons shortly before reservoirs swallowed them. After this trip, his writing transitioned from adventure pieces on running rivers to messages on the need to protect waterways in their free-flowing state. His early ‘60s essay published in The Mountaineers was one of the first calls for a national system of river preservation.
Another American Whitewater founder, Oz Hawksley, introduced paddlers to the Clearwater River drainage, including the Lochsa River in the late 1950s. In July 1960, he led the first trip down another branch of the Clearwater, the Selway River, advertising it in the American Whitewater Journal as, "one of the most beautiful wilderness areas, with a navigable river, left in the United States." It is a statement that holds true today thanks to the foresight of Oz and others to include the Clearwater as one of our nation's first Wild and Scenic Rivers.
The cover of the Seattle Times Sunday Magazine containing American Whitewater founder Wolf Bauer’s trip report on the Cowlitz River not long before it was dammed. Photo, right, of Oz Hawksley on an early descent of the Selway, courtesy of the Hawksley Family.
We now find ourselves with an indispensable tool suitable for the long-term safeguarding of our finest rivers from dams and other development projects. If you enjoy playing in or near the waters of our country’s wild rivers, the importance of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act cannot be overstated. Many of the most classic whitewater rivers in the world are protected by the Act. The Salmon River in Idaho, the Rogue River in Oregon, the Chattooga River in the Southeast, the Feather River in California, and hundreds of others were all targets for dam proposals that would have sacrificed their quintessential character. Instead, they were designated National Wild and Scenic, preserving their free-flowing whitewater, unpolluted waters, and the opportunity for the next generation of river enthusiasts to experience the raw power of nature’s scalpel and the untarnished exploration of a wild river. Unfortunately the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act has been underutilized and much less than 1% of all rivers in the United States are designated.
LET’S PROTECT MORE OUTSTANDING RIVERS
American Whitewater was there to help craft the legislation, and with the help of our partners, like our friends at KEEN, we’re still hanging around a half-century later making sure new Wild and Scenic protections are extended to deserving rivers at every opportunity. We need your help to make new designations a reality. Right now there are a few Wild and Scenic bills making their way through Congress and your support can help push them across the finish line. KEEN has made it incredibly easy to support protections for wild rivers, just go to their digital call to action phone booth and under the Oceans and Rivers tab, select the SUPPORT WILD & SCENIC RIVER script and contact your representatives today!
American Whitewater sees this year’s 50th anniversary celebration of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act as a rare opportunity to restore our nation’s commitment to protecting the U.S.’s most outstanding rivers and create lasting protections for deserving rivers across the country. So take a few moments to throw your support behind Wild and Scenic River designations and visit KEEN’s digital call to action phone booth right now.
KEEN Effect Advocacy Manager Erin Gaines experienced her first-ever multi-day river trip through the wilderness on the Wild and Scenic Rogue River (OR) with American Whitewater staff this year. Photo by Kevin Colburn.