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Conn. River the first — and only — Blueway

Classic view of Connecticut River with Sunderland and Whately from Mount Sugarloaf. The river is the only federally designated Blueway.
Recorder file photo

Classic view of Connecticut River with Sunderland and Whately from Mount Sugarloaf. The river is the only federally designated Blueway. Recorder file photo

It appears the Connecticut River will enjoy the distinction of being the only federally designated “National Blueways” river, a recognition that the four New England states traversed by the 410-mile waterway play well together.

The Blueways river system idea, created as part of the Obama administration’s “America’s Great Outdoors Initiative” in 2012, came undone earlier this month because of a controversy that erupted over the 700-mile long White River through Arkansas and Missouri.

The voluntary conservation program was dissolved over concerns in those Southern states that it would infringe on private landowners’ rights. But Obama’s original “community-driven conservation and recreation agenda” remains embodied by the original Connecticut River “Blueway,” whose original designation remains intact.

Greenfield-based Connecticut River Watershed Council says now the nation’s only “National Blueway,” will continue to “carry on that idea that protecting watersheds creates viable economies and sustainable environments.”

“We call it an exclusive program,” joked Andrew Fiske, executive director of the nonprofit environmental council. “We would love to have had company, but it really doesn’t take anything away from us.”

The voluntary program — created as a partnership for federal, state and non-governmental agencies to improve conservation, recreation and nature education along the waterway according to priorities set by grass-roots planning efforts — came under fire when conservative groups mistakenly targeted it as a United Nations-inspired federal government usurpation of private landowner rights that could lead to new regulations or land seizures.

“Our goal is to shut them down, root them out and eventually kill it with an injunction,” a “NoWay Blueway” group based in Nixia, Mo. declared in a website posting last June.

In her order ending the program, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell specifically reaffirmed the Connecticut River designation.

“The Connecticut River Watershed exemplifies coordinated stewardship of a river and its watershed with diverse partnerships of interested communities including over 40 partner organizations, protection of over 2 million acres of habitat, environmental and educational efforts aimed at urban and rural populations and recreational access to the river, its tributaries and public lands,” she wrote. “The Department is committed to promoting best practices, sharing information and resources and encouraging active and collaborative stewardship of the Connecticut River and watershed.”

Fiske said that even without the $3 million for the program that President Barack Obama had originally proposed for next year, “We will continue to work with folks when we can. We were hoping a Blueways program would have made it easier. Having those kudos, that attention, that acknowledgment — hey, that’s worth something.”

Fiske said the congressional funding had been problematic anyway, even if the Blueways program had remained intact.

The watershed council, which had been working with groups like the Friends of the Silvio O. Conte National Wildlife Refuge, as well as the Franklin Regional Council of Governments and other regional planning agencies, said this region has once again been recognized for the benefits of collaboration, so it will continue to promote the Blueway designation, even if there is no more standing federal program.

“We’ll fly whatever flag we’ve got to try to get folks to pay attention, to help us implement these projects and ideas.”

You can reach Richie Davis at: rdavis@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, Ext. 269

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