See what the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act preserves

Over 50 years, the landmark law has protected more than 13,000 miles of American waterways.

  • The Smith is California’s largest undammed river and its sole remaining salmon stronghold; it’s considered the crown jewel of the state’s North Coast. Here the Middle Fork rips through Oregon Hole Gorge along Highway 199, exposing the complex geology of the once-undersea Franciscan Formation. Great fishing, hiking trails and fabulous whitewater boating in spring all typify this basin. The main stem riffles through ancient redwoods of Jedediah Smith State Park.

    Tim Palmer
  • The Deschutes River snakes toward the Columbia Gorge through the Mutton Mountains of central Oregon, seen here from 30,000 feet. In three separate sections starting on the Cascades’ conifer slopes, through quiet water interrupted by astonishing falls where lava has blocked the path, and on to a remarkable desert canyon, 173 river miles are wild and scenic. The upper section is diminished by irrigation dams that invert the natural hydrography, holding water back in winter and raising it later. The middle section is severely depleted by diversions in summer.

    Tim Palmer
  • A dam proposed here in Copper Canyon, on the lower Rogue River, provided impetus for local fishing outfitters to support the creation of a wild and scenic river system.

    Tim Palmer
  • Separated by a reservoir, two designated sections of the Missouri — America’s longest river — border Nebraska and South Dakota. This is the second-largest wild and scenic river in terms of flow volume. Here the lower reach passes Ponca State Park west of Sioux City, Iowa. Rare pallid sturgeon and paddlefish survive here, and the two reaches include five Lewis and Clark campsites.

    Tim Palmer
  • The Rio Grande begins in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. After a nearly total diversion it enters New Mexico, where nourishing spring flows resupply the wild and scenic section. One of the more remarkable road-accessible canyon views in America is seen here from the Highway 64 bridge over the Taos Box.

    Tim Palmer
  • The Snake River in Grand Teton National Park, beneath the Rockies’ photogenic uplift, ranks as an American classic, with a riparian corridor renowned for moose, bison, leaves and bald eagles. Here above Schwabacher access, a late-season snowstorm dusts high peaks. Swift flows offer one of the West’s most popular float trips.

    Tim Palmer
  • Fresh snowfall blankets the shores of the Pecos River as it drops from the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of the southern Rockies. The upper 21 miles, through cottonwood, aspen and spruce forests, are wild and scenic. Downstream of these popular New Mexico trout waters, 750 unprotected miles of the Pecos are plagued by diversions, pesticide, pollution, and residues from oil and gas drilling.

    Tim Palmer
  • The Van Duzen River, a 74-mile long tributary to the lower Eel River, drains the Coast Range’s erodible Franciscan Formation. In this scene it picks up Grizzly Creek at a state park 22 miles east of Fortuna, California.

    Tim Palmer
  • High in the Cascade Range of Oregon, the McKenzie River begins where a lava dam created Clear Lake just 3,000 years ago, flooding trees whose snags can still be seen standing in the lakebed. One of the coldest rivers in the temperate zones of the continent, the McKenzie foams over two spectacular falls, Shale and Koosah, then rushes through deep forests reachable by a 26-mile trail. The river harbors the only native bull trout surviving on the Cascades’ west slope, through populations have been reintroduced to the Middle Fork Willamette and Clackamas rivers.

    Tim Palmer
  • Born on the glaciated west slope of Mount Hood, Oregon’s Sandy River is wild and scenic for half its distance to the Columbia. Important to multiples runs of salmon and steelhead, the river also offers choice whitewater, then eases to gentler flows. Here Mount Hood rises above cobbled headwaters.

    Tim Palmer
  • Beaver Creek is one of 12 Alaska rivers designated wild and scenic for more than 100 miles. It winds through boreal forests of White Mountains National Recreation Area and Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge. Limestone peaks 4,000 feet high backdrop the forested shores of spacious gravel bars of the “creek” that runs a total of 230 miles. In this aerial view, smoke from forest fires occludes upper reaches.

    Tim Palmer
  • Peaking in springtime, California’s Tuolumne River billows into a six-foot wave at the brink of Glen Aulin Falls in the Yosemite backcountry.

    Tim Palmer

 

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act — a historic decision to preserve rivers of special recreational, scenic and cultural value. Through this law, over 13,000 miles of rivers and streams have been protected. In Wild and Scenic Rivers: An American Legacy, author and photographer Tim Palmer makes the case for protecting yet more sections of the nation’s approximately 2.9 million miles of natural waterways.

Palmer’s photography and prose provide a timely look at rivers and ecosystems that have been preserved over the years, reminding readers of what can be accomplished when a country makes a shared commitment to protect its natural heritage. Former President Jimmy Carter, who was involved in the program’s creation, lauds Palmer’s book as a great contribution to America. He writes, “I’m grateful that the legacy of all who have worked to protect these rivers will be known and appreciated.”

Wild and Scenic Rivers: An American Legacy
By Tim Palmer.
256 pages, hardcover: $45
Oregon State University Press, 2017.