Rivers designated under the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act enjoy some of the highest levels of protection in the country. Future generations will be able to study ecosystems untouched by development as well as appreciate the original character of the free-flowing river.
In Part I: Wild and Scenic Rivers Act in Oregon and Washington, we described what this piece of legislature actually does for an individual waterway. With different distinctions between wild, scenic and recreational, we found that the act increases awareness, attracts additional funding, supports a management plan and much more.
In this article you will find that many rivers flowing through your Columbia River Gorge backyard have benefited greatly from the Wild & Scenic Act. In fact, many of Wet Planet’s classic white water rafting and kayaking runs demonstrate how Wild and Scenic designation can benefit a river and its community. Finally, discover why a rafting company might make an extra effort to be use these rivers for trips and instruction. Also, learn what you – the individual – can do to help.
Everyone knows the Pacific Northwest is wet.
It rains, it snows, and sometimes it feels like the ocean has just picked itself up, moved inland and dropped itself off.
With towering volcanoes and mountain ranges everywhere, high volumes of precipitation soon make their way down to the valleys where they form classic and epically beautiful rivers.
Oregon’s Wild and Scenic Rivers
The state of Oregon, as a result of this marriage between mountains and precipitation, has more rivers designated as Wild & Scenic than any other state in the country. Naturally, many of these rivers are also the best whitewater rafting runs in the country with a stunning combination of untouched ecosystems and remote landscapes.
However, if not for the Wild and Scenic Act, these rivers may have had a very different and very ugly story. Each has benefited from designation in different ways.
Most recently, both the Owyhee canyon in southern Oregon and rivers within Mt. Hood National Forest fell under the protection of the Wild and Scenic Act with Obama’s signing of H.R. 146 in March, 2009.
The Owyhee canyon won 120 miles of protection as a wild river. Remote and pristine, this river canyon is the kind of wild in “wild west.” Mountain lion, bobcats, raptors and other large predators roam the Owyhee valley and steep canyon bluffs, a clear indicator of the type of wilderness surrounding the river.
A canyon this deep may have fallen under the control of a power company, but is now secured by its Wild and Scenic designation. Being so remote, the roads forged and heavy construction involved in building a dam here would have significantly decreased the original character of the Owyhee River.
Mt. Hood National Forest’s rivers carry melted glacial water from 11,235 ft Mt. Hood through pristine and untouched forests. Already a highly-visited recreation spot, the new Wild and Scenic designation will facilitate additional management plans for the protection and restoration of these precious waterways that thread through the trees.
The Hood River, now protected under the act, has some of the most exciting whitewater rafting in Oregon. In fact, descending these rivers on a raft or kayak is one of the only ways to enjoy the majestic environment of the region.
Further east and south of the Columbia Gorge lies the Cascade Mountains and the Rogue River. Included as one of the original eight rivers of the Wild and Scenic Act in 1968, this stretch has long been valued for its natural beauty and recreation. A total of eighty-four miles fall under the act’s protection and hosts some of the nation’s favorite steelhead and salmon fishing, whitewater rapids and incredible views.
All summer long river enthusiasts descend the Rogue River with perfect water levels due to upstream dam releases. While the Wild and Scenic Act prevents any further construction of dams, a long standing recreation and resource management plan has allowed for commercial and private usage of this unique waterway for decades. It is the perfect location for multi-day kayak instruction, the stunning beauty lending to an accelerated education of whitewater kayaking technique.
Washington’s Wild and Scenic Rivers
Washington state, along Oregon’s northern border, might appear to have an equal number of protected rivers. The two states share mountain ranges and boast similar quantities of remote and pristine lands.
This, unfortunately, is not the case. Washington has a lot to learn from big-brother Oregon.
Only three rivers in Washington fall under the protection of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act: the Skagit River, the Klickitat River, and the White Salmon River.
Wet Planet Whitewater supports and assists in the preservation of two of these rivers, the Klickitat and the White Salmon River.
Washington’s Klickitat River hosts biking, fishing and boating visitors throughout the year as a recreational Wild and Scenic River. The 10 miles protected under the act allow for historical Native American fishing sites to remain preserved as well as insure the upstream access for rafters and kayakers.
With Wild and Scenic designation in place, a bike path and other recreation outlets have been placed along the river corridor. Beginning kayak students at Wet Planet e
njoy the protected Klickitat River all year long with mellow rapids and fantastic scenery. Further upstream, on a section of river that might one day be added to the act, non-stop whitewater rafting action takes place every spring during high water.
One of Washington’s most popular rafting and kayaking destinations, the White Salmon River shines as an example of the Wild and Scenic Act’s ability to restore and support a river and its community. Once the river gained protection, first in 1986 then again in 2005, additional funding permitted the purchase of BZ Corner land for boating access. Now managed by the USFS, the land has allowed more river enthusiasts to enjoy this spectacular waterway.
Additionally, the White Salmon Symposium, an annual event to educate and unite the White Salmon River community, began in response to the Wild and Scenic Act’s goal of increasing public awareness and collaborative restoration efforts. Wet Planet takes particular interest in helping to organize this event as it underlines the company’s goal of bringing together locals and seasoned river workers for the benefit of the river.
Wet Planet’s Commitment to River Advocacy
These protected rivers form the backbone of Wet Planet’s river rafting and kayaking trips for two main reasons.
First, their pristine beauty, secluded rapids, and primitive forests represent wilderness that remains untouched by human hand. This type of environment is rarely available to the average person, yet highly valuable.
Second, through low-impact recreation can support the preservation and other conservation efforts. Through events like the White Salmon Symposium and general exposure, more people have the opportunity to understand the value these free-flowing rivers possess.
Mostly, getting more people to breathe the crisp, wilderness air and connect with untouched surroundings, the higher chance they will also want to protect that.
You can help. Right now.
Now here’s where you can shine as the river conservationist you know you are.
Congress has only a few more precious days to vote for the current America’s Great Outdoors Act. This bill will add more than 100 miles of precious waterways to the Wild and Scenic Act, initiate restoration efforts for estuaries and other bodies of water and begin the National Fish Habitat Conservation Act.
Take 5 minutes out of your day and call the U.S. Capital Switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and ask to speak to your senators and congressmen. Tell them to vote YES on S. 303, the America’s Great Outdoor Act.
Then sleep easy, knowing you have supported the river ecosystems you so dearly love and appreciate.
Susan Hollingsworth has already called her senator because she wants to see more free-flowing, protected rivers (so she can write about them all).