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In October, two significant 50-year anniversaries will be celebrated: the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act and the National Trails System Act. Both were born in 1968, described as a year of profound progress in environmental protection by the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System (NWSRS) on its webpage, which offers the following historical perspective of that time:
“The Tet Offensive and Vietnam protests. The assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. A standoff with North Korea over the capture of the USS Pueblo. Racial protests—even at the Mexico Olympics. Escalation of the Cold War; the Soviet Union invades Czechoslovakia. Riots at the Democratic Convention in Chicago. The transition of ‘Flower Power’ to a more somber time in the country... A manned spacecraft first orbits the moon. The Paris Peace Talks. The beginning of the end to Vietnam... Six new national park units. Over 800,000 acres of wilderness protected.”
The NWSRS was created by Congress to preserve certain rivers such as our majestic Delaware River with outstanding natural, cultural and recreational values in a free-flowing condition for the enjoyment of present and future generations, while recognizing the potential for their appropriate use and development. “River management that crosses political boundaries and promotes public participation in developing goals for river protection” is encouraged.
Overall, less than one quarter of one percent of our nation’s rivers are protected under the NWSRS. There are approximately 3.6 million miles of streams in the United States; 12,754 miles are protected, equating to only 0.35% of the rivers found in America.
Concurrently, the National Trails System Act of 1968 established National Scenic Trails and National Recreation Trails to create and protect significant trails throughout the nation. In 1978 President Carter signed into law a bill that added National Historic Trails. A 1983 amendment preserved unused rail corridors by converting them to rail-trails, with 22,000 miles of completed rail-trails and 8,000 miles of projects now underway.
The iconic Appalachian Trail, which extends more than 2,100 miles from Georgia to Maine, was created with the passage of the original National Trails System Act. The North Country Trail, which runs from New York to North Dakota, is the longest continuous trail in the U.S. Visit www.trails50.org/national trails, for more information about these and other national trails.
Learn more about both celebrations at https://rivers.gov/wsr50/index.php and www.trails50.org. For a visual celebration, check out award-winning conservation author Tim Palmer’s new book, “Wild and Scenic Rivers: An American Legacy.”