President Obama Signs Historic Wild and Scenic River Legislation Today

Rebecca Wodder, president of American Rivers, attended the ceremony today at the White House, where President Barack Obama signed into law the second largest Wild and Scenic Rivers package in history. Below is a special message from Rebecca.

When American Rivers celebrates our centennial anniversary, March 30, 2009 will be a “red-letter” day on the timeline of this organization’s greatest achievements.

Today, President Obama signed into law the second largest Wild and Scenic Rivers package in history.

Today’s law expands the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System by more than 50 percent, bringing the total number of Wild and Scenic Rivers to 252.

American Rivers’ founding purpose was to protect the last best rivers in America under the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, the only law like it in the world.  This is like a “national park” system for rivers, recognizing and protecting America’s best rivers for future generations.

Three years ago, as we looked forward to the 40th anniversary of the Act, we set ourselves an ambitious goal – to designate 40 new rivers to the Wild and Scenic System in honor of the 40th anniversary.  I am thrilled to announce that we not only met that goal, but exceeded our highest expectations by more than doubling that number and adding 86 rivers to the System.

This victory represents years of hard work and dedication by American Rivers staff, board members, donors, supporters and activists.

This afternoon, I had the high honor of attending the presidential signing ceremony at the White House.  Amazingly enough, I had one of ten front-row seats and shook the President’s hand at the close of the event.  It was thrilling to hear the President speak of rivers and water resources in an era of climate change and of fish returning to “rivers that have not seen them in decades.”

As our former board member, Charles Kuralt, was fond of saying, “America is a great story and there’s a river on every page.”  He also said:

If you are in search of the authentic America, seek out the little river that runs under the bridge at Concord.  Pay your respects to the Suwannee, the Shenandoah, the Appomattox.  Walk in the grass beside the Little Bighorn.  Spend an afternoon waist deep in the Henrys Fork with a fly rod in your hand, in the fall, when the trumpeter swans fly low over the river.

In 100 years, thanks to the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System and the work of American Rivers, his words will still be true.

So, let’s take a moment to celebrate and reflect on this enormous accomplishment – for the ages.  This tremendous victory inspires us and propels us in our work.

In the words of our President earlier today, “each generation has a responsibility to secure this nation’s promise for the next.”  Today, we accomplished a tremendous feat – and tomorrow we’ll continue our fight to protect and restore America’s rivers.