Wild and Scenic River Protection

If you want to fish for river-run salmon this fall or enjoy a canoe trip at the height of color, the U.S. Forest Service has a message for you: Pick up after yourself and keep the rivers clean.
AuSable McKinley Rd Scenic Overlook

By  Howard Meyerson  |  Photography courtesy  U.S. Forest Service

If you want to fish for river-run salmon this fall or enjoy a canoe trip at the height of color, the U.S. Forest Service has a message for you: Pick up after yourself and keep the rivers clean.

That declaration applies to any river, but it is especially pertinent on designated Wild and Scenic River stretches of the Pine, Manistee and Au Sable rivers where the forest service proposed to ban alcohol earlier this year. That decision was postponed following an outcry from users, adjacent communities and related businesses, who have since joined the effort to reduce problems along those special river corridors.

The problems include “threats to public safety, harassment of other river users, trespass on private property, lewd behavior and littering,” according to Huron-Manistee National Forests staffers.

“It’s not the alcohol we’re trying to get at, it’s the behaviors,” explained Nate Peeters, spokesman for the forests, which encompass nearly 1 million acres of public land in the Lower Peninsula. “We have people who come to visit and think there are no rules up north — that they can go out to a river in the middle of nowhere and do whatever they want. Our objective has been to get communities talking more and more about these things.”

The National Wild and Scenic River system was created by Congress in 1968 to preserve certain special rivers across the country.

“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,” Congress wrote in the act that categorizes those selected rivers as wild, scenic or recreation.

“These are world-class, cold-water fisheries and paddling destinations that draw visitors from around the world … the idea is to keep these rivers in their natural state,” Peeters said. 

And so, the canoe liveries, businesses, communities and paddling groups decided to join hands and develop an action plan. Banning alcohol, they realized, would be bad for business.

Paddlers and Anglers at Au Sable River
A view of the protected stretch of the Au Sable River, where paddlers and anglers are encouraged to pack out what they bring in.

“The Traverse Area Paddle Club agreed to do two dozen river cleanups, eight on Wild and Scenic River segments,” Peeters said. “We plan to do more education and law enforcement and have staff at landings. Community members are helping to post signs about river rules. The Visitors Bureaus are willing to help spread the Leave No Trace word.” Organized river floats also are planned, along with establishing a volunteer group of river stewards.

“The action plan is the product of discussions with the community working group that was established after the alcohol ban was stayed,” Peeters said. “It describes the community-driven efforts planned to educate the public and empower river users to be responsible stewards of our natural resources.”

The plan is a good-faith effort, an opportunity to see if community-based solutions will work. If not, the proposed alcohol ban is likely to resurface. Anglers fishing the fall salmon run are encouraged to “pack out what you pack in,” Peeters said. “A big issue is anglers leaving dump sites where they fish. We want them to keep glass and foam off the river.” Paddlers and anglers fishing from boats also are being reminded to clean, drain and dry off their watercraft so as not to spread aquatic invasive species.

Will that be enough? I have my doubts. But, it’s a good start. Stay tuned.

Howard Meyerson is the managing editor for Michigan BLUE Magazine.

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