All photos by Frank Fotia

All photos by Frank Fotia

In September 2016, Potomac Riverkeeper Network launched a new campaign to have the Savage River in Western Maryland designated as Wild and Scenic by Congress, under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. This designation would provide additional protections against pollution and development on the Savage, helping to preserve this incredible river for future generations. With our partners the Savage River Watershed Association and the Mid Atlantic Council of Trout Unlimited, we created the Savage River Wild and Scenic Work Group.

Our mission is to work as a community-led partnership to protect the special qualities and valuable resources of the Savage River so they can be enjoyed now and for many generations to come.

Like much of the Upper Potomac River Watershed, the Savage River is dominated by state forests, parks and a rugged rural topography that has helped protect the river from development and pollution. The Savage River is the premier trout fishery in Maryland, with native brook trout attracting sports fishermen from across the country. Whitewater thrill seekers flock to the river below the Savage River dam to run the same stretch of rapids that hosted the 1989 Canoe Slalom World Championships. The river is a jewel in the Potomac watershed, and deserves to be protected for future generations.

Designating the Savage River as Wild and Scenic is critically important for its future, because the current patchwork of management plans fails to protect the watershed in an integrated, holistic way.  Our coalition came together in the belief that the Wild and Scenic designation would be the best way to preserve the ecological, historic and cultural values of this unique river system.  

There are three stages in the Wild and Scenic designation process. First, we obtain authorization from Congress to carry out a feasibility study, through the passage of a bill supported by the National Park Service and local government. For Wild and Scenic rivers in the eastern U.S., it’s critically important to build local partnerships and support from the beginning, since much of the land is privately owned. Second is the creation of the study itself, involving the formation of a local partnership committee and the development of a draft watershed management plan and public participation plan. Because the plan will involve local landowners, the Partnership Program makes gaining public support a priority.  The last step is to propose a Wild and Scenic designation to Congress. The Wild and Scenic proposal could include the whole river system or segments of the river system to be designated Wild, Scenic or Recreational. If the Savage River is designated as National Wild and Scenic, it would be the first for Maryland and the first in the Potomac Watershed.

Our Work Group has begun outreach to stakeholders by sending a survey to local landowners and public living in the Savage River area. Next will be a public meeting, where we will introduce the Wild and Scenic program, provide results of the survey, and answer any questions or concerns the public may have. Local support is a necessary action item for our congressional partners, Senator Cardin and Delegate Delaney, who will need to recruit additional congressional supporters. For more information, follow Upper Potomac Riverkeeper on Facebook and visit our new Savage River Wild & Scenic website.

What is a Wild and Scenic designation?

In 1968, Congress passed the National Wild and Scenic Act in response to the growing number of hydroelectric projects and other dams that were blocking the natural flow of hundreds of rivers and damaging fish habitat across the country.  The goal of the Act is to preserve the free flowing nature of rivers and streams that have “outstanding resource values,” a diverse category that includes water quality and fish and wildlife habitat along with historic and cultural resources. Once a river or river segment is designated, proposed projects that threaten the established resource values have to go through a federal review and approval process.

Despite its lofty goals, the Act has only been utilized to protect about .25% of our nation’s rivers. While over 12,000 miles of 208 rivers have been designated, over 600,000 miles of rivers nationwide are still impacted by more than 75,000 dams. In the Potomac region, only Pennsylvania has 6 river systems designated as Wild and Scenic.