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Senators Merkley and Wyden Push to Expand Smith River National Recreation Area

Posted: 05/07/2021
By: Thomas O'Keefe

Senators Merkley and Wyden introduced legislation this week to expand the Smith River National Recreation Area into Oregon. 

In 1990, Congress enacted legislation to establish the Smith River National Recreation Area (NRA) to protect the watershed, but the boundary of the NRA stopped at the Oregon border, leaving the North Fork of the Smith River and its tributaries unprotected. The whitewater community knows how special the North Fork of the Smith River is for its unparalleled water quality and exceptional opportunities for whitewater boating.

The NRA expansion by 58,000 acres would permanently withdraw the land from new mining claims, helping to protect this sensitive area from proposed nickel strip mines, and protect 74 miles of scenic rivers, including Baldface Creek, Chrome Creek, and nearby streams. In addition, the legislation would task the U.S. Forest Service with updating the recreation plan to reflect the new additions to the National Recreation Area, and produce a special study of streams, fens, wetlands, and potentially unstable and vulnerable aquatic habitat areas.

“When we come together to protect our state’s natural wonders, we can create jobs, protect resources, and make sure Oregonians can enjoy the beauty of our state for generations to come,” Merkley said. “Expanding the Smith River National Recreation Area is a commonsense win-win-win for our economy, adventurers across the Northwest, and those dedicated to preserving the ecosystems that make Oregon so special. I’m grateful to all of the local leaders, conservationists, and businesses who have been a part of this process so far, and look forward to continuing to work together to get this bill signed into law.”

“This legislation will create jobs and preserve one of the largest undammed rivers in the nation so that generations to come can experience Smith River’s scenic beauty,” Wyden said. “Expanding the Smith River Recreation Area into Oregon protects our state’s world-renowned natural treasures while also investing in our local economies.” 

“The upper reaches of the Smith River watershed provide exceptional and unique opportunities for backcountry recreation,” said Thomas O’Keefe, the Pacific Northwest Stewardship Director for American Whitewater. “We appreciate the leadership of Senator Merkley to expand the Smith River National Recreation Area to include the headwaters in Oregon. The area is characterized by rare hydrologic and botanical resources that the legislation appropriately recognizes. The extension of Wild and Scenic designation to the tributaries of the North Fork Smith will further protect one of the west coast’s last free-flowing rivers and a special place for all who enjoy wild rivers.”

American Whitewater appreciates the leadership of Oregon's two Senators and our partnership with Smith River Alliance who has led local efforts to steward the river and advocate for protection of the watershed.

Photo Credit: Nate Wilson.

Thomas O'Keefe

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Seattle, WA 98115

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