Over 50 years ago, America’s free-flowing streams were being dammed and altered at an alarming rate. At the urging of fishermen and conservationists, wise leaders in congress created a system to protect some of the remaining natural rivers. The passage of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968 created the National Wild and Scenic River System.
There are 58 National Wild & Scenic River Designations in Oregon, more than any other state. Oregon has approximately 110,994 miles of river, of which 1,916.7 miles are designated as wild & scenic—almost 2% of the state's river miles. In 2018, communities and agencies throughout Oregon will host special events to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Wild and Scenic River System and the National Trails System. To find an event in your area, visit the 50th Anniversary Rivers Events Story Map online at http://bit.ly/2sp3kMr.
THE RIVER STYX - Wild and Scenic Goes Underground
Oregon Caves is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act by highlighting our own River Styx, which in 2014 became the first totally underground stream to be added to the Wild and Scenic Rivers System. The Congressionally-designated National Wild and Scenic River Styx begins high above the main cave entrance, where the headwaters of Cave Creek are pirated underground. Once inside the marble bedrock, the stream takes on the name River Styx. One hundred and nine years ago, when President Taft created Oregon Caves National Monument, caves were considered separate from the surface environment. Much of the marble block that supports the cave as well as the headwaters of Cave Creek that feed the River Styx were not part of the original monument.
We now know that most caves are intimately connected to the surface environment above. This direct connection and the general lack of a natural filtration system can make underground river water extremely vulnerable to pollution. So in 2014, with the help of private donations, the park service was able to buy out all the grazing leases in the watershed above the cave. Over 4,000 acres were added to National Park property as the Oregon Caves National Preserve.
Even though the cows are gone, more protection for the environment may be on the way. Two surface streams on National Park property are currently being considered for designation as wild and scenic – Lake Creek and the upper portion of Cave Creek. Cave Creek is the source of much of the water flowing in the River Styx. Lake Creek is adjacent to Cave Creek and is the source of our water supply here at Oregon Caves. The streams provide high quality water and habitat for wildlife, including at least six species that are found nowhere else in the universe.
If Congress approves the Wild and Scenic designation, actions that could harm these streams would prohibited. Their free-flowing condition and 'outstandingly remarkable' resource values would be preserved not only for the plants and animals that live here but also for the enjoyment of future generations of visitors.