DEERFIELD — Standing on the Stillwater Bridge, U.S. Representative Jim McGovern and city officials announced the tabling of a bill to study the river, advancing a grassroots campaign that began two years ago to designate the Deerfield River as a National Wild and Scenic River.
Titled Deerfield River Wild and Scenic River Study Act of 2022, the bill will direct the Home Secretary to study the Deerfield River and identify parts of the river and its tributaries that meet national river criteria. wild and scenic to possess “outstanding outstanding scenic, recreational, geological, fish and wildlife, historical, cultural, or other similar values,” according to the National Wild and Scenic River System website.
McGovern, D-Worcester, plans to introduce the bill in the House on Tuesday and U.S. Senator Ed Markey, D-MA, will introduce the Senate counterpart. U.S. Representatives Richard Neal, D-Springfield, and Peter Welch, D-Vt., are co-sponsoring the bill in the House and U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. co-sponsor the bill in the Senate.
“Today we have come together to say it’s time to move forward with a great idea: adding the Deerfield River and its tributaries to the National Wild and Scenic River System,” McGovern said. “Deerfield’s Wilderness and Scenic designation would provide financial and technical assistance to communities in the watershed, who are already dedicated to preserving and protecting this valuable resource.
Franklin County towns along the river endorsed the bill, along with the Franklin Regional Council of Governments, the Deerfield River Watershed Association, the Connecticut River Conservancy, and the Deerfield and Connecticut River chapters of Trout Unlimited. .
The study, which will take at least two to three years, will identify and recommend portions of the Deerfield River that meet federal government criteria. After that, another bill will need to be introduced in Congress to officially designate portions of the river.
Once designated, river stewardship plans are developed and distributed to communities containing those portions of the river, while also opening up a wealth of federal funds and other technical services to help communities pay for and implement these conservation plans. The study will cover the entire 76-mile length of the Deerfield River and will also consider major tributaries of the river, such as the Green and South rivers.
While allowing federal benefits to flow to Deerfield River communities, the designation does not place the lands under federal control, change any existing land uses or affect private property rights.
Chris Curtis, vice-president of the Deerfield River Watershed Association, said this was an opportunity to protect the Deerfield River for generations to come. He said there are a variety of projects and initiatives that can be pursued once designation is approved and said the Westfield River, which was designated a Wild and Scenic River in 1993, could be a model because the river’s walking trails were improved with federal government funding, and water quality monitoring protocols were also established.
“It’s exciting, it’s something we can do to help communities protect the river and better manage the river,” Curtis said after the event. Possible projects, he added, could include “public education and awareness, river access projects, things like that. Helping manage the recreational traffic on the river, I think, is going to be a really big deal here.
Recreation is a vital economic component for communities around the Deerfield River and Curtis said designating the river for federal protection will ensure recreation continues, while retaining its natural elements.
“We have so much pressure on the river, like many natural areas since COVID. Everyone seems to be recreating a lot more, which is great,” Curtis said. “But, we came here yesterday and had to clean up all the rubbish in the area because of yesterday’s tubes. It’s a very busy river these days, lots of people enjoy it, which highlights the need for protection.
McGovern said the bill will help protect the ‘treasure’ that is the River Deerfield, while ensuring it is accessible to everyone.
“We now have the opportunity to ensure the river the national recognition it deserves,” McGovern said. “This work is part of a bigger picture: conservation is important. Preserving nature for future generations is important.
From there, Curtis said organizations like the Deerfield River Watershed Association will continue to work with communities and raise awareness about the river and its conservation needs while the study is completed. In the meantime, Curtis thanked McGovern for bringing the bill to Washington D.C. and advancing the conservation of the Deerfield River.
“We want to make sure this is a totally local process and that we reflect the concerns of the communities,” Curtis said. “The Congressman’s support is so special to us. Without him, we could not move forward. He did a great job for us.