New National Water Trails System to promote healthy, accessible rivers

Note from Rock River Trail Coordinator Greg Farnham: “The following appears to be very relevant and welcome news for our efforts to establish a recreation water trail on the Rock River. Please read the release carefully as it describes a modification that has been made, presumably by the department secretary and not Congress, to the National Trails System Act to establish national water trails as a class of national recreation trails.”

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar recently unveiled the National Water Trails System, a new network that will increase access to water-based outdoor recreation, encourage community stewardship of local waterways, and promote tourism that fuels local economies across America.

The announcement came in advance of the White House Conference on Conservation, hosted by the Department of the Interior. The conference spotlighted community-driven conservation efforts as part of President Barack Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors Initiative.

Rivers, lakes and other waterways are the lifeblood of our communities, connecting us to our environment, our culture, our economy and our way of life,” Salazar said. “The new National Water Trail System will help fulfill President Obama’s vision for healthy and accessible rivers as we work to restore and conserve our nation’s treasured waterways.”

Salazar signed a Secretarial Order that establishes national water trails as a class of national recreational trails under the National Trails System Act of 1968. The order sets the framework for Secretarial designation of water trails that will help facilitate outdoor recreation on waterways in and around urban areas, and provide national recognition and resources to existing local water trails.

Jo-Ellen Darcy, assistant secretary of the Army for civil works, said: “The Corps will actively participate, working with many local partners, to develop the water trails system and connect people to the water resources close to their homes. The National Water Trails System will recognize and promote local efforts at a national level.”

Salazar also announced that the Chattahoochee River Water Trail in Georgia would be the first river to be designated as a National Water Trail under the new system. The water trail travels through 48 miles of river within the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area. The park serves 3.2 million visitors annually, most from the local Atlanta metro-region.

In addition to providing more than 65 percent of the public greenspace in this urban region, the river provides most of Atlanta’s drinking water. The park and new water trail contain 18 developed public access points and connect with other local city and county parks. The river is heavily used by anglers, tubers, kayakers, canoers and rafters.

The Chattahoochee River Water Trail provides clean water, greenspace and river access for millions of Americans every year,” Salazar said. “As our nation opens a new chapter on rivers — one where we value our waterways for their recreational, economic and ecological importance — it is fitting that the Chattahoochee River Water Trail leads the way.”

With each designation, signage, technical assistance and resources will be provided to build on and promote the development of quality water trails. Water trails that are designated can become catalysts for restoring the health of local waterways throughout the community.

The National Trails System Act of 1968 authorized the creation of a National Trails System composed of National Recreation Trails, National Scenic Trails and National Historic Trails. Although National Scenic Trails and National Historic Trails may only be designated by an act of Congress, National Recreation Trails may be designated by the Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of Agriculture.

Under the Secretarial Order, the National Park Service will coordinate the national water trail nomination process.

To learn more about the National Trails System, visit

From the March 7-13, 2012, issue

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