A Wild and Scenic refers to rivers designated as part of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. The National Wild and Scenic Rivers System was created by Congress in 1968 (Public Law 90-542; 16 U.S.C. 1271 et seq.) to preserve certain rivers with outstanding natural, cultural, and recreational values in a free-flowing condition for the enjoyment of present and future generations. The Act is notable for safeguarding the special character of these rivers, while also recognizing the potential for their appropriate use and development. It encourages river management that crosses political boundaries and promotes public participation in developing goals for river protection.
Rivers may be designated by Congress or, if certain requirements are met, the Secretary of the Interior. Each river is administered by either a federal or state agency. Designated segments need not include the entire river and may include tributaries. For federally administered rivers, the designated boundaries generally average one-quarter mile on either bank in the lower 48 states and one-half mile on rivers outside national parks in Alaska in order to protect river-related values.
Regardless of classification, each river in the National System is administered with the goal of protecting and enhancing the values that caused it to be designated. Designation neither prohibits development nor gives the federal government control over private property. Recreation, agricultural practices, residential development, and other uses may continue. Protection of the river is provided through voluntary stewardship by landowners and river users and through regulation and programs of federal, state, local, or tribal governments. In most cases not all land within boundaries is, or will be, publicly owned, and the Act limits how much land the federal government is allowed to acquire from willing sellers. Visitors to these rivers are cautioned to be aware of and respect private property rights.
The Act purposefully strives to balance dam and other construction at appropriate sections of rivers with permanent protection for some of the country's most outstanding free-flowing rivers. To accomplish this, it prohibits federal support for actions such as the construction of dams or other instream activities that would harm the river's free-flowing condition, water quality, or outstanding resource values. However, designation does not affect existing water rights or the existing jurisdiction of states and the federal government over waters as determined by established principles of law.
Please go to our Contact Us page for the name and contact information of a regional representative who can try to answer questions.
NPS responsibilities for WSRs are described in Director's Order #46. For supporting documents of DO #46 and Reference Manual #46, visit the Wild and Scenic Rivers NPGallery Collection. Additional guidance specific to NPS is currently under development. Please visit rivers.gov for technical guidance available from the Interagency Wild and Scenic Rivers Coordinating Council.
Some NPS prepared fact sheets you may be interested in:
WSR Section 7 - Water Resources Project Restrictions
Park Responsibilities for Wild and Scenic River Management
WSR Outstandingly Remarkable Values
Last updated: December 27, 2021