Saving rivers — and having fun while we’re at it

There are scores of reasons to protect and restore rivers:  public health, clean drinking water, our shared responsibility to safeguard our natural heritage… the list goes on and on.

The reason on my mind today is recreation. It’s summer – prime time for fishing, boating, and swimming in the great outdoors – and a good time to appreciate how American Rivers is working to improve recreation nationwide, by restoring the health of rivers.

Recently, the New York Times ran a story about how the removal of outdated dams is opening up wonderful new opportunities for rafting and kayaking.

“River by river, old dams are being dismantled at a rate of about 40 a year, according to American Rivers, a nonprofit conservancy in Washington that advocates for dam removal. While that’s good news for fish and wildlife, it’s also benefiting paddlers…who are flocking to these uncorked rivers in search of newly formed whitewater rapids and other paddling adventures.

Many of these dams were erected decades before kayaking and rafting became mainstream sports. So when a dam is dismantled and the water recedes, mysteries are revealed. Will a Class V rapid emerge from a drained reservoir? Will a trickling ravine turn into a gushing torrent or an impassible waterfall? First descents can be claimed, new challenges charted and overcome.”

American Rivers was instrumental in the removal of dams like those on Oregon’s Sandy River and Virginia’s Rappahannock – where kayakers are discovering great new paddling. We’re also working to remove Condit Dam on Washington’s White Salmon River, which should give this already-popular whitewater river an extra recreation boost.



But American Rivers does more than remove outmoded dams. We’re also leading the way to protect rivers that are still healthy and pristine. Our work to secure Wild and Scenic protections was recently featured in National Geographic Adventure magazine.

River Protection Director David Moryc joined reporter Kevin Fedarko on a raft trip down Oregon’s Rogue River and explained why additional Wild and Scenic protections are needed to safeguard the Rogue’s clean water, salmon runs, and unmatched wilderness experience from harmful logging practices.

“The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act was signed into law in October 1968. Its mandate was to identify a network of streams and rivers that were still wild and free-flowing, and keep them pristine by prohibiting new dams and other forms of development. The Rogue was one of the eight rivers originally declared Wild and Scenic. It was both an exemplar and a benchmark, and since that time, the system has grown to 166 waterways.

“It’s basically a national park system for our rivers,” explained one of my fellow passengers, David Moryc, a senior director with American Rivers, a watchdog group that looks after the network. Imagine a park in which the scenery scrolls past hour by hour. Imagine no RVs and no crowded campgrounds—just oxbows and big frothy drops, easy jokes and river-cooled beer around a campfire.

“No other country in the world has anything like it,” Moryc said. “Yet few Americans even know the system exists.”

American Rivers is here to make sure that people not only know about Wild and Scenic Rivers, but that we celebrate them, and get out and enjoy them. And, we’re dedicated to protecting and restoring all of the nation’s rivers so they can continue to thrill and inspire us for generations to come.