A few weeks ago, I had the honor of introducing 10 locals to the Wild & Scenic section of the lower Rogue River. I’ve been guiding on the Rogue and other Western rivers for over 20 years but there’s something about introducing my home river to folks for the first time. The connection is immediate, intense, and a gift to witness.
I was 8 years old the first time I floated the Rogue. I was 18 the first time I rafted the Wild & Scenic section. As an impressionable teenager, I had no idea that trip would change my life forever. A year later, I began training to be a river guide and have been introducing people to wild rivers throughout the West ever since.
Fifty years ago, river conservationists, politicians, outdoor lovers, and even river guides had the foresight to establish a national system to “preserve certain rivers with outstanding natural, cultural, and recreational values in a free-flowing condition for the enjoyment of present and future generations.” The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act became a national system for river conservation similar to the National Park system for public lands conservation. Eight rivers were designated Wild and Scenic on Oct. 2, 1968, when the act was signed into law, and our beloved Rogue River was one of them.
For anyone who has floated the Rogue’s Wild, Scenic, or Recreational sections you know what a special resource we have here in Southern Oregon. Our backyard river is visited by more than 20,000 people every year who raft, fish and hike in its canyons while taking in its natural beauty and serenity. Visitors are lucky enough to experience this place without the hindrance of dams, development and other impacts because of the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act. The Wild & Scenic designation and associated activities also contribute millions of dollars to the local economy.
The eight rivers designated in 1968 have now grown to a list of over 200 rivers across the country, 58 of which exist in Oregon. Over 12,754 miles of rivers in 40 states tout this important designation however, this is less than one-quarter of
1 percent of rivers across the country. We have a lot more work to do!
When I began phasing out of my full-time guiding career, I questioned how I might continue to work for the rivers if I wasn’t working on them every day. I volunteered with local nonprofits whose focus was public land and water conservation and found myself in the midst of a campaign to Save the Wild Rogue from harmful proposals in 2008.
Today, that campaign continues to ensure cold, clear water tributaries and the wild salmon runs that rely on a healthy, wild Rogue are protected. Just like 50 years ago, guides, businesses, and elected leaders have been working to protect the portions of the lower Rogue that are valuable as a recreation asset, but have minimal protections.
While I still guide from time to time, introducing people to the Wild & Scenic Rogue and other rivers, I now find myself on the front lines working to protect my home river. As the director of the local Rogue Riverkeeper organization, I am honored to be a voice for this river that not only introduced me to Wild and Scenic waterways but has shaped my life path in the best way possible. If I can give back even a fraction of what the river has given me, I will be happy.
Fifty years ago, people from both sides of the aisle saw the need to protect rivers because of threats from dams, development, and resource extraction. They had the foresight to establish a system that would preserve these important waterways while allowing for sensible use at the same time. We have that opportunity again and right here at home. What better way to celebrate 50 years of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act than by continuing to protect and celebrate our own backyard river.
Robyn Janssen is the director of the Rogue Riverkeeper organization in Ashland and a 22 year, veteran river guide on the Rogue, Salmon, Colorado and other wild rivers throughout the West.