Amusing Monday: Get out and enjoy the cool rivers in our region

Given the heat wave of the past few days, I realize that I should have been floating down a river. I’m envisioning cool water splashing people on a boat as the sun beats down from above. I recall feelings of calm while traveling across flat water, followed by the invigoration of roiling rapids.

To get you started, Seattle Magazine offers a few suggestions, and there are numerous rafting companies advertising online to help you tackle more challenging waters.

This year happens to be the 50th anniversary of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, and I’ve been watching some videos that I would like to share. The law was designed to preserve the free-flowing nature of rivers that contain outstanding natural, cultural and recreational values.

“The act is notable for safeguarding the special character of these rivers, while also recognizing the potential for their appropriate use and development,” states an introduction on the federal government’s Wild and Scenic Rivers website. “It encourages river management that crosses political boundaries and promotes public participation in developing goals for river protection.”

The 1968 legislation came at a time that dams were being proposed all over the country. Sen. Frank Church, a Democrat from Idaho, was among the first to push for a bill to block dam construction on designated rivers. Conservation groups wanted a bill that would protect environmental values, and sports groups wanted support for recreational areas. Republican lawmakers, however, were not too keen on locking up natural resources.

Secretary of Interior Stewart Udall, who had served as a U.S. representative from Arizona, had been a supporter of dam projects, but he came to understand the value of protecting the natural environment. Udall proposed a bill on behalf of President Lyndon Johnson to bring balance to the issue.

Republicans and Democrats worked together on a compromise by limiting the number of rivers designated “wild and scenic” within the legislation itself. Eight rivers were listed, while more than two dozen others were moved into a study mode with criteria spelled out in the law to guide designation of future rivers.

It’s worth pointing out that this was a time in history when Democrats and Republicans were able to work together on difficult issues, something that rarely happens today. The vote for approval was unanimous in the Senate, with only seven representatives voting in opposition in the House.

Today, nearly 13,000 miles on 208 rivers are designated under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. While many people see that as a great accomplishment, groups like American Rivers point out that this is less than one-fourth of 1 percent of all the streams in the U.S. (See the federal government’s website or American Rivers website and check out the interactive map on the National Park Service website.)

To qualify as a Wild and Scenic River, a stream must have one of these three qualities:

  • Wild Rivers: Designated river sections must be free of impoundments with clean water in an essentially primitive watershed with no road access.
  • Scenic Rivers: Designated river sections must be free of impoundments with shorelines or watersheds mostly primitive, but they may be accessible by roads.
  • Recreational Rivers: Designated river sections are readily accessible by road or railroad with some shoreline development and/or impoundment or diversion.

In Washington state, the Wild Olympics campaign is an effort to designate new wilderness areas along with portions of 19 rivers as Wild and Scenic. (Check out the map of proposed rivers on the Olympic Peninsula or read the news release that accompanied the latest introduction of a bill in Congress called the Wild Olympics Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.)

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