National Wild and Scenic Rivers

In an October 18, 2000 letter to U.S. Rep. Rush Holt, President Bill Clinton wrote:

"As you know, the future of the Delaware River, the longest free-flowing river in the eastern United States, is vital to the economy of the regions surrounding this important waterway. Wild and Scenic River designation will encourage natural and historic resource preservation and protect precious open space. By allowing local municipalities to sustain and protect the Delaware River as one of our nation's national treasures, this law will help to ensure the vitality of these communities and the quality of life of their citizens."

Creation of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System

The United States Congress approved legislation signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson on October 2, 1968, creating the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. This law, known as the "Wild and Scenic Rivers Act," stated:

It is hereby declared to be the policy of the United States that certain selected rivers of the Nation which, with their immediate environments, possess outstandingly remarkable scenic, recreational, geologic, fish and wildlife, historic, cultural, or other similar values, shall be preserved in free-flowing condition, and that they and their immediate environments shall be protected for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations.

According to the National Park Service (NPS), when the Congress created the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System in 1968, it envisioned a cooperative system that would rely on the combined efforts of state, local, and federal governments along with individual citizens and non-governmental organizations. The system was intended to be flexible enough to provide a means for communities to protect their rivers in a way that is sensitive to the needs and concerns of the people who live, work, and recreate along the rivers.

The National Park Service's web site reports that the U.S. has 3.5 million miles of rivers, but only 12,598 river miles (just over one-quarter of one percent) are included in the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System (as of April 2012). 

Which Delaware River Basin Waterways have been Designated National Wild and Scenic Rivers?

Two reaches of the Delaware River were added to the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System by Congress and President Jimmy Carter on November 10, 1978.

One section extends 73 miles from the confluence of the river's East and West branches at Hancock, N.Y. downstream to Milrift, Pa. All but 30 acres along this 73-mile Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River is nonfederal and most is privately owned.

The second covers about 40 miles from just south of Port Jervis, N.Y. downstream to the Delaware Water Gap near Stroudsburg, Pa. Nearly 70,000 acres along this 40-mile middle river corridor are part of the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area and owned by the federal government.

Combined, these two river corridors take in approximately 145,000 acres.

Sections of four tributaries were added fifteen years later in 1993 by Congress and President Bill Clinton.

A segment of the Maurice River and several of its tributaries (including Menantico and Muskee Creeks and the Manumuskin River) totaling 35.4 miles were added to the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System on December 1, 1993. The Maurice, located in New Jersey, is a Delaware Bay tributary.

In the Fall of 2000, Congress gave its final approval to two bills, signed into law by President Clinton, that added another section of the Delaware River and another Delaware Basin waterway to the National System.

One bill designated the White Clay Creek as wild and scenic on October 24, 2000. The White Clay Creek Wild and Scenic Rivers System Act designated approximately 190 miles of segments and tributaries of the White Clay Creek as components of the national system. This includes virtually the entire watershed, a first time occurrence in the national system. The creek flows from southeastern Pennsylvania to northwestern Delaware and eventually joins the Christina River, a tributary to the Delaware River. It is the first wild and scenic river designation in the state of Delaware. Visit the White Clay Creek Watershed Management Committee's web site at http://whiteclay.org/ for more information, including an on-line version of the watershed management plan.

The other bill added a section of the lower Delaware River to the National System on November 1, 2000. The Lower Delaware National Wild and Scenic River includes a 38.9-mile section of the main stem Delaware (and about 28 miles of selected tributaries, the Tinicum, Tohickon, and Paunacussing Creeks) linking the Delaware Water Gap and Washington Crossing, Pa., just upstream of Trenton, N.J.

You can view the Lower Delaware River Management Plan (August 1997) and the 1999 Lower Delaware National Wild and Scenic River Study Report on the National Park Service's Northeast Region's web site. The management plan describes goals and recommendations to maintain and improve the water quality in the Lower Delaware Management Area.

You can also download a copy of the management plan and get additional information on the Lower Delaware's wild and scenic designation from the Lower Delaware Wild and Scenic River's web site or from the Delaware River Greenway Partnership's web site.

Both of the laws enacted in 2000 implement recommendations from earlier, congressionally mandated studies by the National Park Service, which enjoy widespread local support. DRBC staff participated in the development of both plans.

Three-quarters of the non-tidal Delaware River is now included in the national system.

Congress and President George W. Bush added sections of another Delaware River tributary in December 2006.

The Musconetcong Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, which designates 24.2 miles of the Musconetcong River (a tributary of the Delaware River located in New Jersey) a component of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System, was signed into law on December 22, 2006.

Partnership Wild and Scenic Rivers Program

As a subset of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System, Partnership Wild and Scenic Rivers are preserved and managed through a partnership of adjacent communities, state governments and the National Park Service. Communities protect their own outstanding rivers and river-related resources.

Twelve Wild and Scenic Rivers across the nation are currently managed though this collaborative approach. Four of the 12 are in the Delaware River Basin: the Maurice Wild and Scenic River, the Lower Delaware Wild and Scenic River, the White Clay Creek Wild and Scenic River, and the Musconetcong Wild and Scenic River.