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Wild & Scenic Status Sought for the Nooksack

The Nooksack River is born among the glaciers and snowfields of Mount Baker, Mount Shuksan and the Twin Sisters Range. Its three forks roll down from the ramparts through shadow-dappled forest and verdant farmlands, sweeping past villages and towns, eventually flowing into the Salish Sea.

Ruth Creek, a tributary of the Nooksack. Photo by Rich Bowers
Ruth Creek, a tributary of the Nooksack. Photo by Rich Bowers

The river is home to all five species of native salmon as well as steelhead and trout. Bald eagles line its banks in winter. Elk, mountain goats and bears roam the wild country of the watershed. Yet, the majority of the Nooksack River system remains unprotected.

That could change, if a recently launched effort to have the Nooksack added to the Wild and Scenic River System is successful.

A Wild and Scenic designation would prevent the construction of dams, safeguard water quality and protect riverside habitat and wildlife corridors. Established by the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968, this designation can be bestowed by either the Secretary of the Interior or Congress. There are currently more than 3400 free-flowing river segments listed as wild and scenic, including portions of the Baker, Sauk and Skagit.

In addition to ecosystem protection, a Wild and Scenic designation could be good for the local economy, according to Wendy McDermott, Associate Director of Washington Conservation Programs for American Rivers, an organization with more than 200,000 members, supporters and volunteers across the U.S.

The Nooksack River near Horseshoe Bend. Photo by John D'Onofrio
The Nooksack River near Horseshoe Bend. Photo by John D’Onofrio

She cites a 2009 study done on the Wild and Scenic portion of the Rogue River in Oregon which found that river-based outdoor recreation contributed some $30 million to Oregon’s economy in 2007, and created 445 jobs. Moreover, visitors to the Wild and Scenic Rogue accounted for three out of every four lodging guests during the summer boating season.

The story is similar here in Washington, where retail sales and services from outdoor recreation contribute $22.5 billion annually to the state’s economy. Each year, 63% of Washington residents participate in active outdoor recreation.

And, according to McDermott, Whatcom County is ideally poised to develop its recreation economy. The Nooksack is the gateway to the Mount Baker Wilderness and North Cascades National Park (both of which experience ever-growing numbers of visitors each year) and provides world-class whitewater boating, hiking, biking, camping and fishing. Travel and tourism currently account for an estimated 17% of total private employment in the county.

A diverse group of interested citizens, business owners, and conservation and recreation organizations – led by American Rivers –  have teamed up to seek permanent protection of approximately 100 miles of the upper portions of the North Fork, Middle Fork, and South Fork and numerous tributary streams through the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.  They are currently working on a Nooksack River Recreation Plan in the hopes of building support for Wild and Scenic designation.

Someday soon, thanks to these efforts, our beloved Nooksack might be protected forever.

Summer Celebration

On Saturday, June 28, 2014 American Rivers is hosting a summer celebration at the Douglas Fir Campground, 2.7 miles east of Glacier, WA on the Mount Baker Highway.

Activities include hikes, fly-fishing workshops, rafting and a BBQ dinner.  All events, except for rafting, are free. Wild and Scenic River Tours will be offering half-priced ($40) rafting trips on the North Fork Nooksack at 3pm on both Saturday, June 28 and Sunday, June 29.

The schedule of events is as follows:

8:30 am – Hannegan Pass Hike

10 am – Horseshoe Bend Interpretive Walk

11:30 am – Intro to Fly Fishing Streams and Rivers Workshop

2 pm – Intro to Fly Tying Workshop

2:30 pm – Horseshoe Bend Interpretive Walk

3 pm – Rafting the North Fork Nooksack with Wild and Scenic River Tours

5 pm – Nooksack River Protection Happy Hour

6 pm – Summer Celebration BBQ

Please call Wild and Scenic River Tours at 360-599-3115 to make your rafting reservation and provide promo code WSRA1968 in order to receive the $40 price.

Hikers for the Hannegan Pass Hike will meet at 8:30 am at the Horseshoe Bend Trailhead to sign-in and organize a carpool to the trailhead. Please RSVP for the Hannegan Pass Hike at 206-213-0330. The hike is free.  All other events meet at the Douglas Fir Campground Picnic Shelter and are free.

You can learn more about the effort to achieve Wild & Scenic status for the Nooksack at the American Rivers website.

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