Once you discover the beauty and good times of paddling on easy going black water rivers or through tumbling whitewater rapids you’ll never forget the experience, and will hopefully return for more! And, as grand as the paddling you’ve experienced may be, you can jump from awesome to life-changing by paddling a wilderness river.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary tells us that ‘wilderness‘ means “a tract or region uncultivated and uninhabited by human beings (2) : an area essentially undisturbed by human activity together with its naturally developed life community.”
When paddling a wilderness river you can’t help but focus on the river’s viewscape and its critters, unaffected by the audio-visual distraction of buildings and vehicle-laden roads and bridges. Wilderness paddling may require a long ride or even a flight to get to the river outpost and your outfitter and you’ll probably spend a night (or two, or three, or ….) camping. Your investment of time and effort will be rewarded many times over!
‘Wilderness’ rivers are ‘wild’ due to laws that protect rivers and immediately adjacent land from further development. The nation’s treatment of our environment changed dramatically in the 1960’s with the passage of the Wilderness, Clean Air, Clean Water and National Environmental Policy Acts – and the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act.
In the past 50 years, we have learned—all too slowly, I think—to prize and protect God’s precious gifts. Because we have, our own children and grandchildren will come to know and come to love the great forests and the wild rivers that we have protected and left to them . . . An unspoiled river is a very rare thing in this Nation today. Their flow and vitality have been harnessed by dams and too often they have been turned into open sewers by communities and by industries. It makes us all very fearful that all rivers will go this way unless somebody acts now to try to balance our river development.
– President Lyndon Johnson on signing the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act, October 2, 1968.
Wild River Areas – Those rivers or sections of rivers that are free of impoundments and generally inaccessible except by trail, with watersheds or shorelines essentially primitive and waters unpolluted. These represent vestiges of primitive America. WSR ‘Wild’ rivers include the Allagash River in Maine, Wind (and over two dozen others) in Alaska, North Fork American in California and Owyhee in Oregon.
Scenic River Areas – Rivers or sections of rivers that are free of impoundments and are largely primitive. Their shorelines are largely undeveloped, but they are accessible in places by roads. Federally protected Scenic Rivers include the White Salmon River in Washington, Bluestone River in West Virginia and Wolf River in Wisconsin.
Recreational River Areas – These are rivers or sections of rivers that are readily accessible by road or railroad, may have some development along their shorelines, and may have undergone some impoundment or diversion in the past. National Recreational Rivers include the Manistee in Michigan, John Day in Oregon and Lamprey in New Hampshire.
States also have protected rivers with their own or additional designations. If you are interested in learning more about state Wild and Scenic Rivers, contact the office of your state’s Department of Natural Resources.