Protected rivers provide communities with a host of benefits including clean water, quality of life, and stronger local economies. River recreation connects people with their local rivers and inspires people to further protect their hometown rivers.

Healthy rivers are economic drivers that benefit communities, businesses and quality of life. According to the Outdoor Industry Association, 113 million Americans enjoy fishing, paddling and trail activities each year. These activities alone generate 1.6 million jobs and more than $20 billion in revenue.


Rivers are home to countless species of fish, birds and other animals that live in and along rivers and depend on them for their food. Riverside areas in the West provide habitat for more species of birds than all other western vegetation combined. Eighty percent of neotropical migrant species (mostly songbirds) depend on riparian areas for nesting or migration. And, eighty percent of all vertebrate wildlife in the Southwest depend on riverside areas for at least half of their life. Rivers also connect ecosystems to one other and affect landscapes far beyond the apparent surface of the water. For example, wetlands provide breeding areas for many migratory birds, and rivers provide corridors for wildlife to move within and migrate as American landscapes become increasingly fenced off and fragmented.

Protected rivers are also critical infrastructure for human communities. They are important sources of drinking water and make riverside communities more resilient to flood risks. Protected watersheds and riverside lands provide clean, dependable water to local communities by filtering nutrients and sediments, moderating water temperatures, and reducing flood risks. In the process, riparian lands significantly reduce the need for costly municipal water supply filtration and treatment facilities.

Specific protections vary from community to community, river protection strategies include conservation easements, streamside buffers, stringent water quality standards, and reconnecting restored habitat in and along rivers. River protection strategies do cost money and have a greater impact when there is a sustained source of funding to support this work. Many communities, like Eagle County in Colorado, have focused County Open Space funding on protecting rivers and riverside lands for people and wildlife, as well as improving river recreation access points.


Time spent outside recreating in open spaces and along rivers are an important factor in a healthy life. Unfortunately, many communities do not have recreation areas available close to their homes. Communities across the country face serious health and social issues including obesity, diabetes, and depression, among others, and a sedentary lifestyle is seen as a major contributor towards the many different health and social issues we face.  Improving access to outdoor recreation in and along rivers is a great opportunity to improve healthy choices and connect communities with local treasures. Protected rivers improve water quality, providing a safe place to recreation, and clean sources of drinking water.

By improving safe access to local rivers, communities are able to experience the benefits of recreation in their own backyard. Recreation trails like Blue trails, water trails, and riverside greenways provide a safe, inexpensive avenue for regular exercise for people living in rural, urban, and suburban areas. The removal of the dam on Hitchcock Creek, in Rockingham, North Carolina opened up over 14 miles of river for community use and recreation. In addition to the creation of the Hitchcock Creek Blue Trail, which allows for ample river-based recreation, and hiking and walking trails now take up the 90 acres along Hitchcock Creek.


Communities that promote diverse amenities attract visitors and can become river town destinations, improving culture and promoting local economies. River recreation helps people discover their rivers and improve quality of life for communities. Recreation connects rural and urban communities to important places like parks, forests, and refuges. As people spend more time exploring their rivers and riverside parks and lands, support for protecting these special places increases, creating a legacy that honors the past, enriches the present, and provides a precious gift to future generations.

Rivers have the power to connect us to our history by preserving important places and providing access to them. Rivers can enhance a sense of community identity and pride. Along the Ashley River Blue Trail, local community members have embraced the rich history and culture of Charleston and the Ashley River, weaving in stories about the community’s history into recreation opportunities.


Enjoyment and protection of the great outdoors has economic value. The Outdoor Industry Association’s outdoor recreation economy report concludes that outdoor recreation accounts for 6.1 million direct American jobs, $646 billion in direct consumer spending each year, $39.9 billion in federal tax revenue, and $39.7 in state and local tax revenue. Outdoor recreation participants spend $86 billion annually on watersports (kayaking, stand-up paddling, rafting, canoeing, and motorized boating), the second highest revenue stream, with camping in the lead at $142 billion.

River recreation provides real opportunities for economic renewal and growth. Increased tourism, and recreation-related spending on items such as equipment, boats, and bicycles are just a few of the ways that river recreation and protected riverside land positively impact economies. Three out of every four Americans participate in active outdoor recreation each year and paddlesports are among the fastest growing segments of the industry. In Colorado, river related recreation is worth over $9 billion and maintains over 79,000 jobs for Coloradans across the state.

According to “Conserving Lands and Prosperity,” a report on behalf of Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development, communities in the west that protect open space and manage it for sensible recreation rather than just extraction have enjoyed higher economic success. Outdoor recreation on public lands has contributed to increased jobs and higher economic vitality in communities across the rural west. Counties making conservation a priority saw a much higher growth rate than those managed solely for commodity production.