River Studies

Blue Creek flowing through canyon
Blue Creek - Lisa Lynch, NPS

Eastern Wild and Scenic Rivers Study - Phase I

The Bureau of Outdoor Recreation (BOR), which was absorbed into the Heritage Conservation and Recreation Service (HCRS) in 1977, initiated the Eastern Wild and Scenic Rivers Study in 1976 in cooperation with state and local agencies. BOR southeast regional staff collected US Geological Survey (USGS) topographic maps (1:500,000) east of the Mississippi and identified free-flowing river segments 25 miles or longer. In some cases, rivers less than 25 miles in length were included if the rivers were thought to be regionally or nationally significant.

Maps and lists of these rivers were sent to other eastern regional offices of BOR to identify segments of rivers impounded by dams or channelized, and to delete them from the list. BOR created a point system to assess development impacts within one-quarter mile of the rivers' banks. River segments having a cumulative point-per-mile total of 100 or more were deleted, as were most intermittent streams. BOR circulated the resulting list of rivers to Federal and state resource agencies, citizen groups, and individuals, for review and revision.

Public meetings were held in each region and additional nominations and deletions were considered at that time. BOR staff flew over the river segments on the list and recorded them on videotape to evaluate cultural and water resource developments, scenic quality, and flow, and to delete ineligible segments. Following field and aerial evaluation, the revised list of segments was again circulated for review, and comments were used to prepare the final list of rivers.

Eastern Recreational Rivers Study - Phase II

Seventy-five percent of the rivers initially listed were deleted through the course of "Phase I" largely due to the amount of development within the river corridor. Some of these rivers were potentially eligible as recreational rivers as defined by the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. In 1978, the Department of the Interior's Heritage Conservation and Recreation Service, the predecessor agency to BOR, surveyed thirteen states in the northeast for their opinions and ideas regarding the potential for an additional inventory of urban, cultural and recreational rivers. Nine states, five of which had their own wild and scenic river programs, responded with support for conducting the study. HCRS held a regional workshop in December, 1979, to coordinate collecting data for the study.

Public and private officials were notified of the study's objectives and solicited for potential candidate rivers, and HCRS regional offices conducted literature reviews to assess existing data. Additional data was collected in-house and by subcontractors using uniform data sheets. HCRS regional offices also conducted workshops with state river agencies to collect public comments and information. HCRS staff flew over and videotaped the top five segments in each physiographic section, and summarized river information by physiographic section and river category (urban, cultural, and recreational). Upon review of additional public comments, the final list of urban, cultural, and recreational rivers was compiled by the regions and submitted to the Washington office.
Two small waterfalls flowing off leaf-covered boulders.

NPS, Scott Teodorski

Western Wild and Scenic Rivers Study - Phase I
While HCRS completed "Phase II" in the East, the agency started "Phase I" in the West. In January 1979, HCRS’s Northeast Regional Director suggested that HCRS could conduct a western rivers inventory that built upon the lessons learned from the eastern inventory. By April, general information and data sheets were mailed out to public and private sector officials soliciting them for their involvement in the western inventory. The western inventory used six steps, or filters, to conduct the inventory process, much like the eastern inventory:

  • Length (segments greater than/equal to .5 miles)
  • Water Resource Development (rivers free of existing impoundments or other alterations such as channelization, straightening, dikes, and levees)

  • Cultural Development (a point system was used to grade projects found within ¼ mile on each side of the river bank)

  • Input by Experts (the river list was circulated for comment)

  • Aerial Survey (approximately 20% of the total river mileage in each physiographic section was videotaped)

  • River Evaluation (a list of the top free-flowing segments for each physiographic region was developed) return to top

  • Western Recreational Rivers Study - Phase II



In 1980, HCRS western Regional Directors began mailing out general information and data collection sheets to public and private sector officials to collect data for the "Western Recreational Rivers Study." One goal of the study was to obtain a full range of data on the stream segments listed during the wild and scenic rivers study. The other goal was to add any stream segments with outstanding or multiple natural or scientific resource features that were either overlooked or did not qualify under Phase I of the wild and scenic study process.

Last updated: December 20, 2016

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