Try to picture all the rivers in your state. Now add the surrounding landscape to the view, from the steep and rugged contours of the mountainside to the widespread farmlands and tiny towns. Add in the access roads and highways needed to get to these rivers. Don’t forget to include all the smaller tributaries of these rivers as well, like thousands of tiny veins branching out from the main arteries. Oh, and you’ll want to know the flow information for these rivers, too.
Having difficulties fitting in all the information? Google Earth can help. More specifically, American Whitewater and volunteer Alex Zendel can help.
More than just standard geographic features on a map, Google Earth allows us to see the intricacies of a landscape from a birds-eye view. For exploratory river runners, this means scouting remote rapids or planning potential take-out routes for newly discovered runs. The rest of us use this application to understand more detail about the rivers and mountains where we play.
American Whitewater, in their never-ending quest to make river recreation more accessible, has created Google Map information specific to every state. With a simple file download, AW’s live river database joins forces with Google Earth’s addicting topographic images.
The files allow river runners to:
- Search for a specific river
- See immediately if the river is below (orange), above (blue) or at (green) recommended flows
- Link directly to the AW page for each river
- Get directions to the put-in through Google Maps
Recently, AW volunteer Alex Zendel helped complete a new layer for map-happy kayakers, canoers and rafters. The Wild and Scenic file highlights the nation’s protected waterways under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. Alex’s work involved updating the map to include the recent 86 new stretches of river now protected under the Act. Last March, Obama signed the Omnibus Public Lands Act of 2009, adding in a handful of newly designated Wild and Scenic Rivers.
Locally, the Northwest is proud to see the Owyhee Canyon and all of the rivers within the Mt Hood National Forest to the Act’s 200+ protected rivers, including the many stretches of the Hood River.
The Wild and Scenic layer, as seen in Google Earth, provides a visual understanding of exactly how much of America’s river network enjoys some form of protection from additional development. While the Act began by protecting only eight rivers, the 254 now designated don’t exactly cover the map. In fact, the layer helps to illustrate the need to help more of our rivers gain extra forms of protection.
Take a look at the map and imagine these Wild and Scenic Rivers as the only sources for clean drinking water, and you may begin to understand where I’m going with this. While this is not the case at all, it is a good exercise in understanding the ratio of protected water sources to non-protected sources. We can only hope that our fresh water resources will never become that sparse.
For now, enjoy your rivers more easily by spending less time doing research and more time paddling!
Susan Hollingsworth, writer and instructor, lives in the Columbia River Gorge where she uses Google Earth to remind her how many rivers surround her home.