Wild and Scenic Rivers Act

By the 1960’s there was rising concern over the loss of our country’s free-flowing rivers.  In his 1965 State of the Union address, President Lyndon Johnson stated that “the time has also come to identify and preserve free-flowing stretches of our great rivers before growth and development have made the beauty of the unspoiled waterway a memory.”  On October 2, 1968, the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, sponsored by Senators Gaylord Nelson from Wisconsin and Walter Mondale from Minnesota, was signed in to law.  The WSRA was a result of a long process in which legislators, the public, corporate interests, and environmentalists put their mark on the bill. 

Gaylord Nelson’s beloved NamekagonRiver was among the first eight rivers to be designated under the WSRA.   Now there are over 150.  The purpose of designating the Namekagon River is to preserve it in a natural condition and as a relatively free-flowing river; protect and enhance its exceptional natural, scenic, and cultural resources for current and future generations; and provide high-quality recreational opportunities that do not detract from its exceptional natural, scenic, cultural, and aesthetic resources and values (NPS, 1998). 

The WSRA protects rivers in several ways.  To preserve free-flowing character, it prohibits new dams, channelization, and other harmful water resource projects.  It identifies a management agency responsible for assuring the river’s protection.  In the case of the Namekagon River, that is the NPS.   It requires that boundaries be established and authorizes land acquisition and other land protection measures to protect the river corridor.  Perhaps most uniquely, the WSRA protects rivers by encouraging cooperation between the management agency and other governmental units, landowners, and private organizations. 

Since designation in 1968, management of the Namekagon River has included acquisition of land along the corridor in fee title and easement; management planning; research projects; establishment of visitor facilities including a visitor center, landings and primitive campsites; a law enforcement presence; and education and interpretation of river resources.

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