Connecticut River Named Country's First National Blueway
By STEVE GRANT
May 24, 2012
In riverfront ceremonies in Hartford Thursday, U. S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar designated the 410-mile-long Connecticut River as America's first National Blueway, saying restoration and preservation efforts on the river were a model for other American rivers.
"Most people didn't awake to the possibilities of the restoration of rivers and what they meant to the environment and to the economy and young people and health until very recently," he told reporters at the conclusions of the ceremonies. "The people who live along the Connecticut watershed started waking up to this possibility half a century ago."
"There still is a lot of work to do, but it is a great example," he said.
The term blueway emerged in recent years in many states including Connecticut to describe canoe and kayak routes along rivers and other waterways, akin to greenways for hiking and bicycling. But the National Blueways Initiative as envisioned by the Obama administration is considerably grander in scale, an attempt to focus federal, state and private resources on entire river systems without additional regulation.
The Connecticut is the first of what is to be a National Blueways System that is part of an Obama administration effort to promote a community-driven conservation and recreation agenda for coming years. A blueway designation is intended to support existing local and regional conservation, recreation and restoration efforts, and does not establish a new protective status or regulations for a river, Salazar said.
However, within the Interior Department, the Connecticut River and other to-be designated rivers will be given priority for conservation and restoration programs the agency administers, such as funding for fisheries restoration or water conservation.
"The Connecticut River Blueway will have a priority for these funding streams, which even in these tough fiscal times are there and I expect that they will continue to exist," he said.
It being an election year, with the economy an issue, Salazar told a sizeable gathering at Riverside Park, drawn largely from the New England conservation community, that the enormous job losses that occurred in the first months of the Obama administration had been reversed, with hiring now increasing.
"We are comfortable we are moving in the right direction," he said, noting that conservation work and outdoor recreation, encouraged under the new initiative, create jobs, and can help further improve the employment statistics.
"Our own independent estimates indicate somewhere between 7 million and 9 million jobs a year are created through outdoor recreation," he said.
The 410-mile-long Connecticut, much of its upper reaches still heavily forested and farmed, already was a highly decorated waterway.
It is one of 14 federally designated American Heritage Rivers. The estuary at its mouth near Long Island Sound was named one of the Nature Conservancy's Last Great Places as well as a globally significant wetland under the international Ramsar Convention.
The Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge, created in 1991 to encompass the river and its entire watershed - the land it drains - was the first of its kind in the U. S. The Connecticut begins on the Canadian border in Pittsburg, N. H. and drains 7.2 million acres of land in New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts and Connecticut, including brooks that stream off of Mount Washington in the White Mountains.
Patrick M. Comins, director of bird conservation for Audubon Connecticut also is chairman of Friends of the Silvio O. Conte Fish and Wildlife Refuge, which includes representatives of more than 40 conservation, outdoor recreation and environmental education organizations in New England. He said the river valley included invaluable national forests and served as a major highway for many migrating songbirds.
Comins said he expected the designation would lead to increased resources, recreational opportunities and river access.
Efforts to reverse serious pollution problems on the Connecticut began more than 50 years ago, and by 1980 produced considerable progress, which led to an enormous increase in recreational use of the river.
U. S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said the designation was a historic step "in recognizing a national treasure that we have an obligation to keep as stewards for ourselves and future generations."
He said the river served for centuries as a natural resource that helped draw New England together, and that the blueway designation was "a pathway forward, taking the best of our past and making sure we preserve it, not just as a point of recreation or a symbol" but as a waterway that enriches life.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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