Nearly 6,000 miles of river run through Connecticut. But only a few of these miles are designated “Wild and Scenic.” Now, more miles of river are poised to be added to that list.
“Wild and Scenic” rivers are designated by the U.S. Congress as having special cultural and ecological importance.
Right now, Connecticut only has two: the Eightmile River in southeastern Connecticut and the West Branch Farmington River from Hartland to Canton.
It’s been more than 10 years since Connecticut added any new rivers to this list.
But this month, the U.S Congress moved two add two more areas: the Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed around Stonington and the lower Farmington River and Salmon Brook, which runs through 10 towns outside of Hartford.
“Wild and Scenic Rivers, especially in the eastern seaboard, don’t have to be ‘wild’ in the sense of being pristine and untouched,” said Eileen Fielding, who worked on the Farmington River project and is now Center Director for the Sharon Audubon Center.
“A river that is clean, that supports a lot of wildlife, that is the site of a very interesting cultural history, and is recreationally valuable, also qualifies as a Wild and Scenic river,” Fielding said.
“This is a project that has involved many people,” said Sally Rieger, who worked on the Lower Farmington River and Salmon Brook Wild and Scenic Study, and advocated for years to get the Wild and Scenic designation.
Rieger said one benefit of the Wild and Scenic title is recognition.
“It is an honor to have the river recognized as a very special watercourse,” Rieger said. “Also, ultimately, it will bring some National Park Service funding for education and conservation projects along the river.”
That funding isn’t guaranteed year-to-year, but could reach up to $100,000 annually, if lawmakers appropriate the money through the National Park Service budget.
“It works more as seed money, than as ‘mega funding’ for any big project,” said Fielding. “Part of its intent is really to leverage local resources.”
President Donald Trump is expected to soon sign the legislation, which had strong bipartisan support in both the House and Senate.
“We haven’t actually broken the champagne yet, but I think we’re planning to,” Fielding said.