The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act: 50 Years

By Rachel Conn

This year is a big year for people who love rivers and wild spaces. 2018 is the 50th anniversary of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968. The Wild and Scenic Rivers system was designed by Congress to preserve certain rivers with outstanding natural, cultural and recreational values in a free-flowing condition for the enjoyment of present and future generations. New Mexico is one of the original beneficiaries of this designationthe Río Grande was among the original eight rivers designated by Congress as wild and scenic in 1968. In 1994, Amigos Bravos and others were successful at getting the designation extended by legislation to include an additional 12.5 miles of the Río Grande. The current designated area includes 56 miles of the Río Grande from the ColoradoNew Mexico state line to just beyond Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) County Line Recreation Site and the lower four miles of the Red River.

Rachel Conn of Amigos Bravos
Rachel Conn of Amigos Bravos

In addition to designated Wild and Scenic rivers there are many miles of streams in New Mexico that have been found by federal public land agencies to be Wild and Sceniceligible. When streams are found eligible, usually during public land planning processes, federal land management agencies must implement management plans, prescriptions and other measures to ensure that a river’s free-flowing condition is maintained. Outstanding, remarkable values identified during eligibility analysis must not be lost until either they are designated by Congress and permanently protected, or a suitability analysis is performed that releases the rivers from Wild and Scenic consideration.

Protecting and restoring these rivers is important work, not just from a conservation perspective, but from recreation and cultural perspectives as well. In northern New Mexico, “wild and scenic” is what has attracted so many people to come herefrom artists like Georgia O’Keefe, who find our landscapes to be inspiration for  works of art, to the many visitors who come to fish, hike, bike, ski, go rafting and enjoy the bounty of our natural environment.

To celebrate the 50th anniversary, many events are being planned nationwide. Here in northern New Mexico, the BLM is taking a lead role, given the prominence of the Río Grande del Norte monument and that segment of the Río Grande as a preeminent Wild & Scenic river, which, along with the trail system, attracts locals and visitors alike. BLM is joined by conservation groups such as Rivers & Birds and Amigos Bravos, artistic organizations such as the Paseo Project, LEAP, Questa Creative Council, and businesses such as Taos Mountain Outfitters and Taos Mesa Brewing Company, all of whom are planning events that celebrate the Wild & Scenic landscapes of northern New Mexico.

Although the list of events and sponsors will no doubt grow, stay tuned for such celebrations as Pecha Kucha and the Taos Environmental Film Festival in April, an Adventure Challenge for athletes, as well as rafting and hiking opportunities for school kids with Rivers and Birds in May, a Plein Air Paintout at Wild Rivers in Questa in the summer, and river celebrations like Neo Río and Amigos Bravos’ Rally for the Río in September. The BLM will also be leading planned hikes and trail maintenance days, and our local rafting guides are standing by to take folks on easy floats through Orilla Verde or through challenging, heart-pounding trips through the Taos Box or the Racecourse. Make it a point to enjoy the wild and scenic experience with your families and friends by enjoying some of these events, or even by just getting out in solitude to marvel once again at the wonder of creation where we live.  

For more information about events celebrating the 50th anniversary of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers and Trails system, visit

Rachel Conn is projects director with Amigos Bravos, which works to protect and restore the waters of New Mexico.

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