Today, Deputy Secretary of the Interior David Hayes announced that the White River has been named the nation’s second National Blueway. National Blueways are nationally significant rivers ( and their watersheds) that are highly valued for the recreational, cultural, and ecological assets for the communities that depend on them.
As part of President Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors Initiative, today’s designation recognized the innovative partnerships that are working to conserve the White River across its watershed from the Ozarks to the Mississippi. Federal leaders also announced a series of new initiatives aimed at supporting the new National Blueway.
The White River hosts some impressive numbers. It flows for 772 miles from its headwaters in the Ozarks to its mouth at the Mississippi River and drains a watershed spanning 17.8 million acres across 60 counties in two states. It is a vital part of the wildlife-related economies of both Arkansas and Missouri. And in short, healthy rivers and watersheds are vital–providing not only outdoor recreation, but also clean water and flood and drought protection.
In the press conference today at the Peabody in Little Rock, representatives from various federal, state, local and conservation agencies met to hear the announcement and learn more about the initiatives that are being created to support this important river. Present at the designation were federal partners from the Department of the Interior, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Senator Mark Pryor, Executive Director of Arkansas Parks and Tourism Richard Davies, who made a speech on behalf of Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe,the mayor of Clarendon, and leaders from the National Wildlife Refuge Association, The Nature Conservancy, Ducks Unlimited, Arkansas Canoe Club, Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, and more. All together 26 groups came together in a partnership to make the designation a reality.
Along with this announcement, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also said that they have approved a 101,110-acre expansion to the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge-one of the White River’s main tributaries-that will protect floodplain habitat.
Another announcement was from the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, who said they are moving forward with the Lower Cache River Basin Restoration Project, which will increase fish and wildlife habitat.
The National Blueways System was created last year by Ken Salazar of the Department of the Interior. The goal of the system if to advance a watershed-wide approach to conservation, outdoor recreation, and other economic opportunities that rivers provide. The other National Blueway is the Connecticut River and Watershed in New England.