Back To HOME

Back To Wild & Scenic Program

Page Credits:
National Park Service "National Wild & Scenic Rivers System" web site and brochure, "American Rivers Calendar 2001" and the "American Rivers" River Currents Newsletter

What is the Wild and Scenic Rivers Program?

For almost three decades, the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act has protected much of our river heritage. Rivers have defined our country and ourselves. In 1968, Congress recognized that many of our rivers were imperiled and the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System was born.

"It is hereby declared to be the policy of the United States that certain selected rivers of the Nation which, with their immediate environments, possess outstandingly remarkable scenic, recreational, geologic, fish and wildlife, historic, cultural or other similar values, shall be preserved in free-flowing condition, and that they and their immediate environments shall be protected for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations. The Congress declares that the established national policy of dams and other construction at appropriate sections of the rivers of the United States needs to be complemented by a policy that would preserve other selected rivers or sections thereof in their free-flowing condition to protect the water quality of such rivers and to fulfill other vital national conservation purposes."

In addition to an established interagency council, "American Rivers" was founded nearly 30 years ago to make sure the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act (passed by Congress in 1968) lived up to its full potential. Since then, American Rivers has grown in many different directions, but expanding the Nation's Wild and Scenic Rivers (WSR) System remains an integral part of its vision.

The WSR System has 163 designated rivers, and it is remarkably diverse, from remote wilderness areas such as Idaho's Salmon River, to sleepier rivers such as the slow moving Lumber River in North Carolina to historic rivers like the Delaware.

For more information, you can visit the National Park Service web site at, the American Rivers web site at

How rivers are designated.

The Wild & Scenic study process typically requires three years from launch to completion. The Taunton River Study Bill, signed by President Clinton in October of 2000, will be administered by the National Parks Service (NPS), Department of the Interior. From the outset of the study period, the National Park Service (NPS) staff work closely with representatives of local and state governments, river conservation groups, regional planning agencies and other concerned citizens, brought together to form an advisory committee.

Together, this study team guides the process, determining wether the river meets the criteria for designation. More importantly, they develop a conservation plan to protect the river's free-fllowing character and significant resources. The plan relies on state and local land use requirements and nonfederal land acquisition to achieve river conservation goals.

The National Park Service summarizes the results of the research in a report that serves as the basis for a designation recommendation. If the river is found eligible and suitable and if there is sufficient support for designation among riverfront communities, the study team joins with local members of Congress to draft legislation that would ultimately place the river in the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System.

For rivers in the Northeast that run through private lands, such legislation often includes special provisions limiting direct federal land acquisition and creating a permanent partnership between all levels of government, river advocacy groups, and other interests to address long-term management of the river.

All segments of rivers in the system have one thing in common - they are free-flowing. In addition, the river must have at least one "outstandingly remarkable" value such as history, fish and wildlife, culture, scenery, geology, archeology, or recreation.

A Wild and Scenic designation blocks construction of any new federal dams or water resource projects that would harm the free-flow of the river or any of the values for which it was designated.

The government has identified 90,000 miles or river that are potentially eligible for inclusion in the Wild and Scenic Rivers program. Although this may sound like alot of river, it only represents 2.5% of all rivers in this country and of those, only a handful have even received an actual congressional study. This makes the Upper Taunton River very unique.


Why does the Taunton River fit the Wild & Scenic Program?

The 562 square mile Taunton River Watershed, the second largest in Massachusetts is home to 38 cities and towns and is perhaps the most diverse and intact coastal riverine ecosystem in southern New England.

The Upper Taunton River has many "outstandingly remarkable values." Historically, it played a central role in battles between the Native American Wampanoag people and the English settlers. During the 1800's and early 1900's, the Taunton River provided power to a thriving herring industry as well as to paper mills, grist mills and timber mills.

Most remarkably is the fact that the Upper Taunton River is considered an urban river- home to the cities of Taunton and Fall River, yet the river system is abundant with many species of fish, vegetation and wildlife. It is also considered an undiscovered gem" by many canoeing and kayaking enthusiasts. "When I canoed the Upper Taunton River last fall, I remember the beautiful fall colors, the quietness and isolation -- it was amazing to me that I was paddling in the fastest developing region of Massachusetts." Kristen McDonald, American Rivers

While visiting our site, click here to learn more about the Taunton River . Also don't miss the "Just for Fun" section to learn about the many recreational activities the river offers.


What a Wild & Scenic designation can do for the Taunton River.

One of the most widespread threats to rivers today is unplanned development, also known as "sprawl." Sprawl not only affects the health of the river and it dependent wildlife, it also affects a community's way of life.

Because so few parcels along the river are under any type of protection by local, state or federal governments, the Taunton River is extremely vulnerable to development. Fortunately, it is not too late for the Upper Taunton River for two reasons - it is remarkably intact and there is expanding support among organizations like the Taunton River Stewardship Program, the Taunton River Watershed Association, the Wildlands Trust of Southeastern Massachusetts, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the National Parks Service, and the cities, towns and community that call the Upper Taunton River "home."

Although not every review of potential Wild & Scenic Rivers results in a designation, the process often yields important benefits to study area communities. First, because the study provides sustained staff support and a modest budget for conservation work, new information about the river;s important resources are collected and made available for local use. The study also helps unite communities and state government as they tackle regional water quality, flow protection, recreation management, and land conservation issues. Finally, whether or not the river is designated, the conservation plan prepared during the study period can help guide decisions by agencies, municipal governments, conservation organizations, and landowners as they work to protect a valued community resource.

For more information about other organizations working to support the protection of the Upper Taunton River, click on to the "Affiliates" page.


Why community support is so important.

In the past, most rivers added to the System have been on public lands, and the process of designation has been top-down. Over the past ten years though, the National Park Service and members of Congress have supported a more community-based approach.

Since there are few properties on the Upper Taunton River protected by state, local or federal governments, a grassroots community effort is the only means of obtaining a wild and scenic designation.

The National Park Service summarizes the results of the Wild & Scenic study in a report that serves as the basis for a designation recommendation. If the river is found eligible and suitable and if there is sufficient support for designation among riverfront communities, the study team joins with local members of Congress to draft legislation that would ultimately place the river in the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System.

Take a moment to look at the public outreach section of the web site to learn more how you can help the Upper Taunton River achieve a Wild & Scenic Rivers designation.