52 Years of Wild and Scenic Rivers

President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act into law, establishing a system of protection for rivers with outstanding values.

Upper Missouri River | Photo by Roland Taylor, DOI

Even in turbulent times, rivers are a constant.  

Their clean, free-flowing waters nourish our bodies, spirits and communities. Their lush habitats safeguard birds, fish and wildlife. They connect us to our history, to our future, to each other.  

Today, we celebrate our nation’s Wild and Scenic Rivers. Fifty-two years ago, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, establishing a system of protection for rivers with outstanding values. A Wild and Scenic designation is the strongest protection a river can receive, and means the river is forever protected from dams or other harmful development. 

Rivers need your voice

Help us make the world a better place by signing up for opportunities to take action for rivers, clean water and the lives that depend on them.

Wild and Scenic Rivers are national treasures – rivers like the Upper Delaware, Middle Fork Salmon, Rogue, Rio Grande and Chattooga. 

To honor the 50th anniversary of the Act in 2018, American Rivers and our partners set a goal to protect 5,000 new miles of Wild and Scenic Rivers and 1,000,000 acres of riverside lands, and to build a river conservation legacy. Thanks to you and supporters nationwide, we’re well on our way to victory – we’ve protected more than 1,800 miles of our 5,000 miles goal, and 500,000 acres of land.  

The movement to keep our nation’s rivers free-flowing is growing, as well. Campaigns across the country are working to protect an additional 5,000 miles of rivers in states including North Carolina, Tennessee, Montana and Oregon.  

Congressional champions including Senators Udall and Heinrich of New Mexico, Senator Wyden of Oregon, Senators Murray and Cantwell of Washington as well as U.S. Representatives Huffman and Kilmer are championing Wild and Scenic protections in Congress totaling over 1,300 miles.  The Gila In New Mexico, the Owyhee in Oregon, portions the Trinity River watershed in California, and the rivers flowing off of the wild Olympics in Washington State would be protected under pending legislation. 

But we have much more work to do – not only to protect clean water and healthy, free-flowing rivers, but to demand safe, equitable access to rivers and the outdoors for all. To ensure communities of color can take the lead crafting river protection solutions that impact their futures. And to listen and learn from Indigenous leaders who have been stewards of our rivers since time immemorial. 

Upon signing the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act on October 2, 1968, President Lyndon Johnson said, “Every individual and every family should get to know at least one river.” 

Today, I hope you follow President Johnson’s advice and get out to enjoy a river near you, while wearing a mask and maintaining social distance of course to protect your family, friends and community. 

Take a moment to appreciate all we’ve accomplished for Wild and Scenic Rivers, together. And join us as we embark on a new era of river protection, advancing a vision of clean water and healthy rivers everywhere, for everyone. 

8 responses to “52 Years of Wild and Scenic Rivers

  1. Does anyone know the exact number of rivers in Oregon and nationwide that currently has the “Wild and Scenic” national designation?

    Thanks for your leadership to protect our rivers and any additional info!

    1. We are working with local and statewide groups in Virginia that contacted us to explore opportunities for new protections for rivers in the Commonwealth. Despite having some outstanding rivers, Virginia is one of the few states that have no rivers in the national Wild and Scenic Rivers System.

      The Nationwide Rivers Inventory is.a great place to look for the outstanding rivers that have Wild and Scenic potential including the James, New, and Rihanna. https://www.nps.gov/subjects/rivers/nationwide-rivers-inventory.htm

      Virginia also has state protected rivers program: https://www.dcr.virginia.gov/recreational-planning/srmain

  2. How do we go about campaigning for a new “Wild and Scenic River” ? We have two excellent candidates here in Central Pa. The Frankstown Branch of the Juniata River and The Little Juniata River
    Bill Anderson

    Little Juniata River Association

  3. My husband, Jules Tileston, worked for the Bureau of Outdoor Recreation when the Wild Rivers studies began. He ran and recommended the rivers in the CO, NM, MT, and WY, that were ultimately included the the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. In 1972, we moved to Alaska, when he was assigned as the team leader for the study of the rivers that became part of the Alaska National Interest Conservation Act. Nice history to look back on.

    1. Thanks for sharing and thanks to Jules for his work.Your husband helped lay the groundwork for the protection campaigns of today. And what an incredibly cool job that must have been!! The federal and state agency staff then and now are essential to us identifying rivers for Wild and Scenic potential and for their stewardship once protected.

      We all stand on the shoulders of those that came before us to study and advocate for the protection of our nation’s rivers.

      David Moryc
      Senior Director of Wild and Scenic Rivers and Public Lands Policy
      American Rivers

  4. Several years ago I adopted Alder Creek, a tributary to the Cuyahoga River. I spend Sunday mornings picking up litter before it flows into the river. The volume is astounding. I feel we need a national adopt a tributary campaign. We need to stop the litter before it gets to our rivers.

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