Frequently Asked Questions – Wood-Pawcatuck Wild and Scenic Rivers

What comprises the Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed?

The Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed is that area (300 square miles) located within 12 towns in two states (RI and CT) which drains to the Pawcatuck River, through Westerly, and then to the ocean.  This watershed includes seven major rivers: Beaver, Chipuxet, Green Fall – Ashaway, Pawcatuck, Queen – Usquepaugh, Shunock, and Wood, as well as countless, lakes, wetlands, and smaller streams.

What is the Wild and Scenic designation?

In 1968 Congress enacted the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act as a way to protect and preserve certain rivers with outstanding natural, cultural, and recreational values in a free-flowing condition for the enjoyment of present and future generations.

River sections which are classified ‘Wild’ under this act are relatively untouched by development and therefore in near natural condition, with all or almost all of their natural values intact.  Only three Partnership Wild and Scenic Rivers in the US have ‘wild’ sections: Wekiva (FL), 31.4 river miles; Wood-Pawcatuck (RI), 24 river miles; Westfield (MA), 2.6 river miles. 

River sections which are classified ‘Scenic’ under the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act possess outstandingly remarkable values that most other rivers in the area don’t have. These values may be amazing scenery; great recreational opportunities; unique geological features; abundant fish and wildlife; or important historic and cultural aspects. The rivers of the Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed possess all of these attributes! 

River sections which are classified ‘Recreational’ are readily accessible by road or railroad, that may have some development along their shorelines, and that may have undergone some impoundment or diversion in the past. These river sections provide people the opportunity to enjoy these rivers for such activities as boating, fishing, exploring and kayaking.

How did the Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed become part of the National Wild and Scenic River System?

Summary: In the 1970s and early 1980s the National Park Service conducted a survey of  rivers in America to be potentially included in the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. Sections of the Wood-Pawcatuck Rivers were reported as exhibiting outstanding values. At the request of Representative Jim Langevin (RI-2) a reconnaissance survey was conducted which provided a strong indication that a Wild and Scenic River Study would be appropriate and productive. Bills were introduced into the US House and Senate, which, when approved in late 2014, provided permission and financial support for a formal study of the rivers in this watershed to be evaluated for inclusion in the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. 

2010-2014: Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed Association (WPWA) and Save the Bay, South County Office, discussed the benefits and readiness about pursuing Wild and Scenic designation for rivers in the Watershed.  At WPWA’s urging, Congressman Jim Langevin requested National Park Service conduct a Reconnaissance Survey to see if outstandingly remarkable values and community favor may exist for a Wild and Scenic Rivers designation. Senator Jack Reed included in the federal budget permission and funds for a locally led study to take place. All elected delegates provided support including Congressmen Jim Langevin (RI), David Cicilline (RI), and Joe Courtney (CT), Senators Jack Reed (RI), Sheldon Whitehouse (RI), Chris Murphy (CT), and Richard Blumenthal (CT). 

2014-2018:  A Study Committee consisting of the Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed Association in conjunction with representatives from local towns, regional experts and extensive community input prepared a Stewardship Plan (hyperlink: wpwildrivers.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/WandSStewardshipPlanFINAL.pdf). During this time period the National Park Service created a Study Report (Hyperlink: wpwildrivers.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/WandSStewardshipPlanFINAL.pdf) which presented findings about the qualities of the rivers of the Wood-Pawcatuck watershed that would make them eligible and suitable for designation as a Partnership Wild and Scenic River System under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

By July 2018: The twelve towns in the Wood-Pawcatuck watershed enthusiastically voted to adopt the Stewardship Plan! They also expressed support in pursuing a National Wild and Scenic Rivers designation! 

October 2, 2018: U.S. Senators and Congressmen from CT and RI introduced a bill into Congress that would amend the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act to include the rivers of the Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed. (S. 3533 and H.R. 6950).

February 2019: The U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed the Dingell Act (John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act), which includes this prestigious designation for the Wood-Pawcatuck…

March 12, 2019: The President signed the Dingell Act into law! This officially designated The Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed Wild and Scenic Rivers. This Act is also described as the Public Lands bill that protected lands and rivers nationwide, established a revolving Land and Water Conservation Fund, and designated additional Wild and Scenic Rivers, such as the Lower Farmington River and Salmon Brook. (S.47, SEC. 1302. Hyperlink: https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/senate-bill/47/text?r=58&s=6 )

April 8, 2019: The local community celebrated on the banks of the Wood River amidst a spring downpour. Puddles and a broken down shuttle bus didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of these 125 hearty New Englanders and their elected officials. The Congressional Delegation who so diligently shepherded the inclusion of the Wood-Pawcatuck spoke, including Congressmen Jim Langevin (RI), David Cicilline (RI), and Joe Courtney (CT), and Senators Jack Reed (RI), Sheldon Whitehouse (RI), Chris Murphy (CT), and Richard Blumenthal (CT).

Which tributaries (feeder streams) are included in the designation?

Certain tributaries were identified in the National Park Service Study Report as having qualities that made them integral to the quality of the designated seven rivers. Therefore these tributaries are eligible and suitable for Wild and Scenic protection. These are considered “covered tributaries” under the Dingell Act. Although not all streams and brooks were identified, the Stewardship Plan and this Act were written with a watershed approach to protection. The Dingell Act became US law in March of 2019 designating the Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed Wild and Scenic Rivers.

The Assekonk Brook, Breakheart Brook, Brushy Brook, Canochet Brook, Chickasheen Brook, Cedar Swamp Brook, Fisherville Brook, Glade Brook, Glen Rock Brook, Kelley Brook, Locke Brook, Meadow Brook, Pendleton Hill Brook, Parris Brook, Passquisett Brook, Phillips Brook, Poquiant Brook, Queens Fort Brook, Roaring Brook, Sherman Brook, Taney Brook, Tomaquag Brook, White Brook, and Wyassup Brook.

What is the difference between a Wild and Scenic River and a Partnership Wild and Scenic River?

Partnership Wild and Scenic Rivers is a unique category of designated rivers. When the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act first became US law in 1968 only rivers running through federal lands were protected. Over subsequent years this Act was amended to protect a broader range of rivers, such as those with private, municipal and state land ownership with little or no federal land ownership. River management of these areas takes a collaborative, partnership approach. Management is locally driven, with collaborative planning between local, state, and regional governments and organizations with the assistance of the National Park Service. The first river to be designated as Partnership Wild and Scenic River was the Great Egg Harbor in New Jersey in 1992. The Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed is one of 16 river systems to receive this prestigious designation.

What are the benefits of a Partnership Wild and Scenic River designation?

  • Assures that the local communities are an important part of managing the rivers
  • Provides the capacity to work across town and state boundaries for the good of the rivers
  • Helps protect the rivers for current and future generations
  • Helps protect the rural character of the rivers
  • Helps preserve a clean and plentiful water supply
  • Encourages appropriate river access for many types of enjoyment and appreciation
  • Provides access to National Park Service funding and expertise to implement the Stewardship Plan

What is the Stewardship Plan?

The Stewardship Plan was locally developed through a participatory process and enthusiastically adopted by all 12 watershed communities. The Plan documents the outstandingly remarkable values of the watershed and identifies strategies to protect or enhance these attributes.The Plan characterizes threats and potential impacts to the watershed and recommends actions to preserve these resources for present and future generations.

What are the features of the Wood-Pawcatuck Wild and Scenic Rivers designation?

  • River and land use management continues to be governed by existing local and state laws and regulations, the same as prior to designation.
  • The Wood-Pawcatuck Wild and Scenic Rivers Stewardship Plan, is available as a guide to river conservation actions.
  • There is a Wood-Pawcatuck Wild and Scenic Rivers Stewardship Council (Stewardship Council). This is a local advisory council, consisting of members from each of the watershed community, local partner organizations, and state and federal agencies. The Stewardship Council is available to provide technical and financial support to local communities and partners. 
  • Federal, state, local, and private funding to implement the local Stewardship Plan may become more easily available.
  • The National Park Service will review and comment on potential federal water resource projects using the Stewardship Plan as a frame of reference to protect the rivers’ outstanding resources.

What are the duties of the Stewardship Council?

The Stewardship Council’s mission is to implement the Wood-Pawcatuck Wild and Scenic Rivers Stewardship Plan through voluntary actions, public education, and offering technical and financial support to local communities and partners. The Council was initiated in May of 2019. The Stewardship Council consists of a representative and an alternate from each of the 12 Towns, the 2 States Environmental Agencies, as well as  key regional non-profits.

What doesn’t a Partnership Wild and Scenic River designation do?

  • Does not put land under federal control
  • Does not require public access to private land
  • Does not force any changes in local land-use decision-making
  • Does not create new federal permits or regulations
  • Does not change any existing land uses
  • Does not bar access to or use of the river or watershed lands
  • Does not affect hunting and fishing laws

Does designation affect my property if I own land on the river or in the watershed?

  • Local land use and property ownership is unaffected. 
  • There are no additional requirements to maintain your land.  
  • All rights to keep, sell, donate or transfer your land to family remain.  
  • Existing state and local regulations that affect land use and development remain in effect.
  • The Stewardship Plan contains suggestions for good stewardship practices for property owners.
  • The designation has the potential to increase property values.

What financial or other obligations are required of towns within the Wood–Pawcatuck Watershed?

No financial commitment is required from communities in support of the watershed designation or Stewardship Plan. Each town does appoint members to serve on the Wood-Pawcatuck Wild and Scenic Rivers Stewardship Council. Financial support for the operation of the Stewardship Council is provided by the federal government as well as grants and private donations.

What towns are within the Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed?

Rhode Island

  • Charlestown
  • Coventry
  • East Greenwich
  • Exeter 
  • Hopkinton
  • North Kingstown
  • Richmond
  • South Kingstown
  • West Greenwich
  • Westerly 

Connecticut

  • North Stonington
  • Sterling
  • Stonington
  • Voluntown

What are some nearby examples of designated Wild and Scenic Rivers?

Eightmile River (CT), Farmington River and Salmon Brook (CT), Lamprey River (NH), Nashua River (MA & NH), Sudbury, Assabet and Concord Rivers (MA), Taunton River (MA), and Upper Missisquoi and Trout Rivers (VT). For a complete list visit www.rivers.gov or https://www.nps.gov/orgs/1912/partnership-wild-and-scenic-rivers.htm

How do I find out more information?

Stewardship Council meetings are held on the fourth Wednesday nearly monthly from 6 pm to 8 pm at the Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed Association campus, 203 Arcadia Road, Hope Valley, RI 02832. These meetings are open to the public. To confirm any meeting time, contact WPWA at 401-539-9017 or by e-mail at WPWildRivers@wpwa.org. Meeting agendas and minutes from past meetings are available on this website. Questions and comments can be emailed to the Coordinator at WPWildRivers@wpwa.org.

Wood-Pawcatuck Wild and Scenic Rivers Coordinator
c/o WPWA, 203 Arcadia Road Hope Valley, RI 02832

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