Today at the Peabody Hotel, officials from state and federal agencies, local communities and businesses, and non-profit organizations announced the designation of the White River and its entire basin or watershed, as a “National Blueway.” The White River is the second watershed to receive such recognition; the first was the Connecticut River.
Established in 2012 by the Department of the Interior, the National Blueways System places national emphasis on the value of an approach to river conservation that considers all the activities and uses within the watershed and the effectiveness of local partner collaboration for project planning and delivery.
“The designation of the White River Watershed as a National Blueway validates the long-standing and on-going multi-faceted partnerships that have been actively conserving, protecting and restoring the White River and its tributaries for decades,” said Mike Knoedl, director of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.
Among the speakers at the event were Deputy Secretary of the Interior David Hayes, Deputy Undersecretary of Agriculture Ann Mills, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Army (Civil Works) Terrence “Rock” Salt, , U. S. Fish and Wildlife Southeast Region Director Cynthia Dohner, Senator Mark Pryor, Congressman Tim Griffin, Director for the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism, Richard Davies, Clarendon (Ark.) Mayor Jim Stinson, National Wildlife Refuge Association President David Houghton, and Scott Simon, director of The Nature Conservancy in Arkansas.
National Blueways are chosen because they are nationally significant and highly valued for their recreational, economic, cultural and ecological assets.
“The White River has great diversity from top to bottom,” said Richard Davies, director of the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism. “Its blue waters in the Ozarks attract trout anglers and enhance other outdoor recreational activities. In the Delta, its cypress-lined brown waters are known for top-notch bass fishing and world-class duck hunting. And along its entire length, agriculture is a crucial part of the economic picture.”
The White River is also important because it’s one of five commercially navigable rivers in Arkansas. “We are pleased to hear of this designation, and we look forward to being a part of the sustainable economic opportunities the White River provides,” said Gene Higginbotham, executive director of the Arkansas Waterways Commission, which is responsible for developing and protecting waterborne transportation in the state.
Flowing 722-miles from its headwaters in Arkansas’s Boston Mountains, the White River runs north into Missouri before coursing south through the Delta and into the Mississippi River in southeast Arkansas. Its watershed encompasses17.8 million acres, and the water in the White and its tributaries and reservoirs serve as a source of drinking water for many of the 1.2 million people living here. The White and its tributaries also provide water for irrigation for agriculture, which represents the greatest economic impact in the watershed, followed by recreation-based tourism.
Within the White River Watershed, natural areas that provide outdoor recreation opportunities, help improve water quality and provide wildlife habitat include 23 Corps of Engineers parks, three river parks managed by the National Park Service, three national wildlife refuges, two national forests, and more than 100 state-owned parks, wildlife management areas or conservation sites in Arkansas and Missouri. The watershed also encompasses thousands of acres conserved voluntarily by landowners through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wetlands Reserve Program, which is funded by the U.S. Farm Bill.
“Locally driven partnerships that include diverse interest groups working together were a key factor behind this designation,” said Scott Simon, director of The Nature Conservancy in Arkansas. “We hope this news and the momentum it causes will bring new partners that can help build an even brighter future for people and nature in this watershed.”
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.