Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar today signed a Secretarial Order establishing a National Blueways System and announced that the 410-mile-long Connecticut River and its 7.2 million-acre watershed will be the first National Blueway-- covering areas of Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Connecticut.
Joined at Riverside Park in Hartford by U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal; U.S. Rep. John Larson;
Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army Terrence "Rock" Salt; Friends of the Silvio O. Conte Refuge Chairman Patrick Comins and other members of the conservation and business communities, Secretary Salazar said that partnerships along the Connecticut River provide an example for the rest of the nation.
"The Connecticut River Watershed is a model for how communities can integrate their land and water stewardship efforts with an emphasis on "source-to-sea' watershed conservation," Salazar said. "I am pleased to recognize the Connecticut River and its watershed with the first National Blueway designation as we seek to fulfill President Obama's vision for healthy and accessible rivers that are the lifeblood of our communities and power our economies."
The new National Blueways System is part of the America's Great Outdoors Initiative to establish a community-driven conservation and recreation agenda for the 21st century. The Department of the Interior and the Department of Agriculture both identified the Connecticut River as an important priority under America's Great Outdoors.
"USDA's Forest Service and Natural Resources Conservation Service are proud to partner with the Department of the Interior, the Army Corps of Engineers and others in developing a National Blueways System as called for in the America's Great Outdoors Initiative," said Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. "Outdoor recreation is a powerful economic engine for rural America. By working to protect our rivers and streams on National Forests and on our private working lands, USDA is committed to promoting land stewardship and outdoor recreation."
Running from the Canadian border to Long Island Sound, the Connecticut River and its watershed include 2.4 million residents and 396 communities. The estimated 1.4 million people who enjoy the natural beauty and wildlife of the Connecticut River watershed every year contribute at least a billion dollars to local economies, according to the Trust for Public Land.
The National Blueways System established today recognizes river systems conserved through diverse stakeholder partnerships that use a comprehensive watershed approach to resource stewardship. The program will provide a new national emphasis on the unique value and significance of a "headwaters to mouth' approach to river management.
Establishment of a National Blueways System will help coordinate federal, state, and local partners to promote best practices, share information and resources, and encourage active and collaborative stewardship of rivers and their watersheds across the country.
"Secretary Salazar's designation of the Connecticut River as the first-in-the-nation "Blueway' is a fitting recognition of the history, beauty and value of this tremendous natural resource," said Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy. "It also provides an opportunity to utilize the resources and expertise of the Department of the Interior within the heart of New England to support our efforts to protect and enhance the river and to build upon the conservation, recreational, educational and economic benefits it brings."
"The designation of the Connecticut River Watershed as a National Blueway appropriately recognizes the dedicated and vigilant advocates who fight each day to preserve it," said Sen. Blumenthal. "We are honored to have the President's and the Secretary's support in ensuring that residents and visitors can enjoy the great outdoors in Connecticut for generations to come."
"America has always had an important connection to our rivers and streams, but unfortunately many of us were cut off from the water during the boom of urban development," said Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman. "Now, as we continue to reconnect with the rivers that bind us together, we must expand our efforts to protect them and enjoy them. I think it is fitting that the Connecticut River, which provided inspiration to Hartford resident Mark Twain as he wrote about Huck and Jim on the river, be named the first National Blueway. I look forward to working with my colleagues to continue to advance this effort."
"For hundreds of years the Connecticut river has been an essential part of the economy, recreation and overall wellbeing of our state," Congressman Larson said. "I am very pleased that with today's designation as a National Blueways River, future generations will be able to enjoy everything this tremendous body of water has to offer. I want to thank Secretary Salazar and the Obama Administration for recognizing the importance of the Connecticut River Watershed and look forward to working with them on future projects throughout our state."
Salazar noted that today's designation of the Connecticut River is a tribute to the collaborative leadership of partner organizations under the umbrella of the Friends of the Silvio O. Conte Refuge and the cumulative successes of the Connecticut River Watershed Council, states, and other partners. Many partners, past and present, were the visionary architects of the legislation that created the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge in 1991, marking the boundaries of the watershed that became the first national blueway today.
"This is an historic step and we applaud Secretary Salazar for recognizing the importance of Connecticut River and the Watershed," said Patrick Comins, Chairman of the Friends of the Silvio O. Conte Refuge and Director of Bird Conservation for Audubon Connecticut. "The Friends of Conte Refuge and our association of more than 40 organizations are looking forward to continuing and expanding our work with the Federal family to establish new partnerships and bolster existing partnerships and programs that link conservation, education, and outdoor recreation efforts and opportunities throughout the Watershed."
The Secretarial Order on National Blueways also establishes an intra-agency committee to provide leadership, support, and coordination. For the Connecticut River National Blueway, the collaborating federal agencies include the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service and Forest Service and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
"The National Blueways program recognizes partnerships in watersheds and river systems that are working towards conservation and other important environmental and economic outcomes," Salt said. "The success of the stewardship of these rivers is an important complement to the success of the America's Great Outdoors initiative, and the Army and its Corps of Engineers are pleased to be a part of this partnership."
The National Blueway designation differs from existing federal designations for rivers (e.g., Wild and Scenic), which generally cover only a segment of a river and a narrow band of the riparian corridor. A National Blueway, by contrast, includes the entire river from "source to sea" as well as the river's watershed. National Blueways designations are intended to recognize and support existing local and regional conservation, recreation, and restoration efforts, and do not establish a new protective status or regulations.
For more information on the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge, please visit: http://www.fws.gov/r5soc/.
For an online media toolkit specific to today's announcement, please see http://www.fws.gov/northeast/news/2012/socmediapacket.html. Video and photos will be posted after the event.