Blue Trails: Protection through Recreation


Waccamaw River Blue Trail, SC

Waccamaw River Blue Trail, SC | Charles Slate

Although most Americans live within a mile of a river or stream, many don’t realize the central role that hometown rivers play in enhancing community quality of life. A healthy river provides plentiful supplies of clean drinking water, thriving fish and wildlife habitat, natural protection from flooding, and abundant recreational opportunities.

Unfortunately, when people don’t feel a connection between their community and their river, they’re less likely to care for it – which can lead to pollution, irresponsible development, and overall negligence.

American Rivers launched its Blue Trails program in 2007 to help remedy this problem and inspire communities to view their rivers as a resource and take action to protect and restore them.

A Blue Trail is a waterway adopted by a local community that is dedicated to improving family-friendly recreation such as fishing, boating, and wildlife watching, and conserving land and water resources.

Just as hiking trails are designed to help people explore the land, Blue Trails help people discover their rivers and provide communities with a host of benefits:

  • Protect the environment. Blue Trails are an organizing tool that galvanizes citizen support for clean water and healthy riverside lands. They inspire people to protect important habitat and provide corridors for people and wildlife.  While specific protections vary from community to community, Blue Trails are often associated with conservation easements, land acquisition, stream buffer requirements, stream flow protections, and higher water quality standards.
  • Enhance local economies. Blue Trails are economic drivers that benefit businesses and quality of life. According to The Outdoor Foundation, 113 million Americans enjoy fishing, paddling, and trail activities yearly, generating 1.6 million jobs and $20 billion in state and federal revenue.
  • Promote healthy living. Exercise is important for maintaining good health in all stages of life, however many people do not regularly exercise. Blue Trails provide a safe, inexpensive avenue for regular exercise for people living in urban, suburban, and rural areas.
  • Preserve history and community identity. Blue Trails have the power to connect us to our heritage by preserving historic places and providing access to them. Through these cultural, historic and natural places, Blue Trails enhance a sense of community identity and pride.
  • Connect people and places. Blue Trails connect urban and rural communities to parks, forests, and refuges. Through them, we create a valuable legacy that honors the past, enriches the present, and provides a precious gift to the future.

American Rivers is the only national organization helping communities create Blue Trails. Learn more about Blue Trails and our work: