Conservation groups from up and down the Connecticut River Watershed joined together in Hartford this Thursday to witness US Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar designate the Connecticut River and its Watershed as the nation's first National Blueway.
National Blueways are meant to provide a new emphasis on the unique value and significance of a ‘source to sea’ watershed-wide approach to river management by recognizing partnerships that have used a comprehensive approach to conserve river systems. The National Blueways System will help coordinate partners to promote best practices, share information and resources, and encourage active collaboration in watersheds across the country.
This emphasis on partnership with local conservation groups is an exciting opportunity for Mount Grace, which was invited to the meeting as a representative of conservation in the Connecticut, Millers, and Chicopee Watersheds. As the Initiative gathers momentum, Mount Grace looks forward to playing an active role in new collaborations. "Locally, the Millers River Blue Trail recently developed by the Millers River Watershed Council and their MassLIFT-AmeriCorps member Keith Davies helps focus attention on the importance of rivers everywhere for economic development, recreation, wildlife habitat, and conservation – the same values emphasized by the National Blueway program," remarked Youngblood.
The National Blueway designation differs from existing federal designations for rivers (for example, Wild and Scenic Rivers), which generally cover only a segment of a river and a narrow band of the riparian corridor. A Blueway includes the entire river from source to sea as well as the river’s watershed. National Blueways designation is intended to recognize and support existing local and regional conservation, recreation, and restoration efforts. Designated rivers will be given priority for conservation and restoration programs the Department of the Interior administers, which may provide funding for fisheries restoration or water conservation.
For the Connecticut River, the designation as a Blueway commits the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and Forest Service and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to provide leadership, support, and coordination for efforts to steward the resources of the watershed.
Secretary Salazar described current conservation and stewardship efforts in the watershed as “a model for how communities can integrate their land and water stewardship efforts with an emphasis on ‘source-to-sea’ watershed conservation,”
"Most people didn't awaken 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 added. "The people who live along the Connecticut watershed started waking up to this possibility half a century ago."