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Essential Paddling Guide: What's In A Name?


Wild river, national river, scenic riverways. Aren’t they all water when you really get down to it? Here’s a National Park Service primer on the different categories of rivers in the National Park System:

National Recreation Area:

Is designated by Congress and provides opportunities for visitors to partake in recreational activities such as swimming, boating, hiking, and camping. Of the 19 NRA's, several have rivers as their central features. NRA's designations are established in naturally outstanding areas. Most emphasize both water based and non water based recreational opportunities (this list includes only free-flowing river valleys, not rivers impounded as reservoirs).

Examples of National Recreation Areas

National River:

Is designated by Congress and is a river preserved with its surrounding environments, essentially as a park. The Ozark National Scenic Riverways is the nation's first and only scenic waterway, protecting 134 miles of Current and Jacks Fork Rivers, it includes 19 historic or archaeological sites.

Examples of National Rivers

National River and Recreation Area:

Combines the attributes of National Rivers and National Recreation Areas.

Examples of NRRA

Wild & Scenic River:

Designated by Congress, these rivers are free flowing and protected from damaging development and use. They must contain outstandingly remarkable scenic, geologic, fish and wildlife, cultural or similar qualities. A total of 156 rivers have wild and scenic status, with the National Park Service managing 32. Five of the rivers-The Farmington, SuAsCo, Lamprey, Maurice and Wolf Rivers-are cooperatively managed, by states, localities, and the National Park Service.

Examples of Wild and Scenic Rivers

National Natural Landmark:

Recognizes and encourages the protection of extraordinary and nationally significant natural areas. While maintaining outstanding features in their physiographic region, these landmarks must represent and maintain a biotic community or geologic feature. A number provide protection to significant river features.

Examples of National Natural Landmark

National Rivers Inventory:

Is a listing, maintained by the National Park Service, of more than 3400 free flowing rivers segments believed to have outstanding and remarkable values (including scenic, recreational, geologic, fish, wildlife, prehistoric/historic and other values), making them potentially eligible for a Wild and Scenic designation. Federal Agencies evaluate potential eligibility of NRI segments on lands that they manage. Private land rivers have not gone through the potential eligibility study process.

American Heritage River:

A designation established by President Clinton in 1998. The primary objectives of the American Heritage River designation are economic revitalization, natural resources & environmental protection, and cultural & historic preservation. These rivers, as a group serve to represent the natural, cultural, historic, social and economic diversity of America. The goal is to demonstrate that people and nature can live together in productive harmony. Some 20 federal agencies are partnering to assist these rivers. The National Park Service is involved in some way with all 14 American Heritage Rivers.

Examples of American Heritage Rivers

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National Parks Traveler's Essential Park Guide