The American Heritage Rivers Initiative was created by President Bill Clinton when he signed Executive Order 13061 in 1997. The initiative encourages federal agencies to work in conjunction with state, local and tribal governments as well as with private and nonprofit organizations to preserve rivers with certain distinctive characteristics. The objectives of the program include natural and environmental protection, economic revitalization and historic and cultural preservation.
Any river nominated for the American Heritage Rivers designation must meet certain criteria. First, the natural, economic, agricultural, scenic, historic, cultural or recreational resources of the river must render it distinctive and unique. Second, communities served by the river must have developed an action plan that meets all three objectives of the initiative. Third, the community action plan must have broad support from a coalition of lawmakers, landowners, businesses and governments. Finally, the action plan has to be feasible and possible to implement.
Current American Heritage Rivers:
- Blackstone and Woonasquatucket Rivers–Located in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, these rivers played crucial roles in the Industrial Revolution.
- Connecticut River–The Connecticut River borders Vermont and New Hampshire and runs through Massachusetts and Connecticut down to Long Island Sound. The river has bounced back from industrial pollution, transitioning from being called “the world’s best landscaped sewer” into a thriving river thanks to the Clean Water Act and the American Heritage Rivers initiative
- Cuyahoga River–Ohio lawmakers and residents are working to transform this river that has polluted Lake Erie and contributed to Great Lakes degradation.
- Detroit River–This river serves both the United States and Canada and provides an important flyway for migrating birds.
- Hanalei River–Located on the Hawaiian island of Kaua’i, the Hanalei River has suffered from pollution as a result of commercial boating activities.
- Hudson River–The Hudson River played a significant historic role in both the American Revolution and the Civil War. Also, the Hudson River Valley is home to the Hyde Park compound of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt.
- Lower Mississippi River (including the Wolf River in Memphis)–The lower portion of the “Nile of the New World” is home to many different cultures, and its tributaries support a great deal of farmland. Flooding and potential seismic activity along the New Madrid fault are ongoing concerns.
- Potomac River–The Potomac River serves our nation’s capitol and is a natural habitat for bald eagles.
- New River–The New River is the third-oldest river in the world geologically. In its course through North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia, the New River Gorge has been designated as a National River.
- Rio Grande–This river serves as the boundary between the U.S. and Mexico for 1,250 miles in addition to its significant scenic properties, especially around Big Bend National Park.
- St. Johns River–This Florida river has been significantly rehabilitated in recent years. By 2014, local organizations expect to remove 1.6 million pounds of nitrogen from the water and 10 billion gallons of discharge per year.
- Upper Mississippi River. Parts of the upper Mississippi serve as a National Wildlife Refuge.
- Upper Susquehanna and Lackawanna Rivers–These rivers run through Pennsylvania and New York State and serve as major recreational fly fishing areas.
- Willamette River–This Oregon river just received designation as a National Water Trail.
American Heritage Rivers Alliance. By supporting this organization, donors contribute directly to the American Heritage Rivers Initiative.
Executive Order 13080. This order from President Clinton established the American Heritage Rivers Advisory Committee.
Property Rights Advocates Lament American Heritage Rivers Announcement. This article from the Heartland Institute explains why some opposed the initiative.
National River Cleanup. Even rivers that are not designated as American Heritage Rivers can benefit from community action taken to clean up local rivers and streams.