Thursday, April 21, 2016

Getting to Know your Local Wild & Scenic Rivers

The Taunton River is the only major coastal river in our region that has no dams or obstructions over its entire length. In this estuary, the tide rises and falls for over 18 miles of the river’s length making it home to rare plants and habitats that exist in this freshwater tidal environment. The watershed is one of the most diverse and intact coastal ecosystems in Southern New England. Because of its scenic beauty and important habitats, the Taunton River was designated by Congress as a Partnership Wild & Scenic River in 2009.

The National Park Service started the Partnership Wild & Scenic Rivers program as a way to manage special rivers that are not owned by the federal government. These rivers are designated for their scenic, historic and recreational values, as well as important natural elements such as biodiversity, fisheries, and unique geologic features. These outstandingly remarkable values are regionally significant and make these rivers a high priority for protection. The rivers are managed jointly by the National Park Service and a local stewardship council made up of representatives from the local communities. There are currently 13 designated rivers in eight states covering more than 700 river miles.

At the end of 2014, a bill was passed in Congress to study the rivers in the Wood-Pawcatuck River watershed for potential designation. Before rivers are designated, they go through a three year study period where a committee is formed to review and identify outstandingly remarkable values. The Wood-Pawcatuck study committee began meeting in November, 2015 and will be working to identify important resources, both natural and cultural, throughout the watershed. The Wood-Pawcatuck watershed also includes the Beaver, Queen and Chipuxet Rivers in Rhode Island and the Shunnock and Green Falls Rivers in Connecticut.

The Wood-Pawcatuck River watershed is home to the largest natural fresh water lake in Rhode Island, as well as large areas of swamps and bogs that were formed as part of the glacial terrain of Southern New England. The study committee will be learning about the rare species of fish, plants and birds that are present in the watershed, and about opportunities to preserve and restore important natural habitats.

Since its designation in 2009, the Taunton River Stewardship Council has been working throughout the watershed to increase recreational opportunities, protect riverfront land, and restore habitats. Several dam removal projects have been completed or are under way, and a new state park has been created. The Taunton River Pathways project has been developed to highlight both walking, biking and canoe trails. This summer will be a great time to get out and explore both of these local natural treasures and experience what it means to be Wild & Scenic.