Virginia celebrates 50th anniversary of scenic rivers program and designates six new rivers in 2020
RICHMOND — Governor Ralph Northam has proclaimed June as Virginia Scenic Rivers Month.
The proclamation highlights the 50th anniversary of the Virginia Scenic Rivers Program and the importance of rivers to nature, the economy and people’s well-being.
It also celebrates the designation of six new state scenic rivers effective July 1.
“As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the scenic rivers program, we are reminded of the irreplaceable ecology, history and recreational opportunities along Virginia’s waterways,” Secretary of Natural Resources Matthew J. Strickler said. “Through Governor Northam’s ConserveVirginia initiative, we are working to protect scenic viewsheds, watersheds and the rivers themselves, because we know that healthy ecosystems support healthy communities and local economies.”
Less than 2% of nearly 50,000 river miles in Virginia are designated as state scenic rivers. The designation is achieved through a legislative process that begins at the local level.
About the Virginia Scenic Rivers Program
In the late 1960s, during the dawn of the modern-day environmental movement, Virginia’s river advocates lobbied for a way to identify and protect a cross-section of the commonwealth’s most outstanding rivers. Their goal was to keep them free flowing and viable into the future, both for wildlife and people.
In 1970, the advocates’ efforts proved successful when the General Assembly passed the Virginia Scenic Rivers Act, and it was signed into law by then-Governor Linwood Holton. This laid legislative framework for the Virginia Scenic Rivers Program, through which rivers could be evaluated and recognized for significant scenic, recreational, natural and historical qualities.
The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation administers the program and evaluates rivers for potential designation.
“The Virginia Scenic Rivers Program is special because it is a grassroots program,” DCR Director Clyde E. Cristman said. “At its foundation are citizens working with local and state officials to celebrate the rivers they cherish.”
Countless citizens have been involved with state scenic rivers. For more than three decades, Catoctin Creek, Goose Creek and the Historic Falls of the James River have had citizen advisory committees that work to maintain the rivers’ scenic status.
Communities have sought the designation for a variety of reasons from increasing tourism to promoting the stewardship of local water resources. In order to qualify for the designation, rivers first must be evaluated on a variety of criteria such as development in the visual corridor, streambed modifications, water quality, fisheries quality, recreational access and landscape characteristics.
“In spite of significant support at the state level, the program was not initially popular with localities and riparian landowners,” said John Heerwald, a retired DCR employee who was involved in the early years of the program. “It took several unsuccessful designation attempts for us to recognize the necessity of generating local grassroots support before seeking legislative approval for a designation.”