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Two Vermont Rivers Headed For 'Wild And Scenic' Status

Charlotte Albright
The Missisquoi River winds through several communities in northern Vermont. It has been recommended for "wild and scenic" status under federal law.

Two rivers in northern Vermont appear headed for federal recognition as wild and scenic waterways.

Credit Vermont Wild and Scenic Rivers / vtwsr.org
A study map shows the area that would be declared "wild and scenic," if Congress approves a bill now pending in the Senate.

The Missisquoi and Trout Rivers would be the first in Vermont to get that status. Supporters say the law would protect and bring national attention to the unspoiled resources.

One of the gems in the Missisquoi near Troy is a majestic waterfall well hidden off a dirt road.

It’s called Big Falls State Park, but there is no sign leading you to it. Locals have obviously spent time there, leaving their names carved in rocks.

Credit Charlotte Albright / VPR
Rocks leading to Big Falls, near Troy, show marks of local swimmers and hikers.

But for the traveler unfamiliar with the area, this place is easy to miss.

Jacques Couture would like to make it easier to share beautiful spots like that.

A few miles away, on his 385 acre farm hugging the river bank, Couture is hoping the U. S. Senate will vote as the House recently did—to declare Missisquoi and Trout Rivers “wild and scenic.”

He and his wife tap 7,500 maple trees, sell syrup, and run a bed and breakfast in addition to their organic dairy business. As a farmer and businessman, Couture says at first he was wary of federal involvement in the rivers.

Credit Charlotte Albright / VPR
Couture's Maple Shop, in Westfield, supplements income from the family's riverfront farm and bed and breakfast. Jacques Couture supports federal designation of the Missisquoi and Trout Rivers as "wild and scenic".

But after learning more about the 1968 law that created the "wild and scenic" designation, he became a leader in the campaign to win over his neighbors at eight town meetings in 2013. The advocacy group hired a coordinator, and commissioned a video to show at the Town Meetings.

Credit Charlotte Albright / VPR
Jacques Couture, a farmer and businessman from Westfield, is one of the supporters leading a campaign to declare the Missisquoi and Trout Rivers "wild and scenic", to bring federal funding and recognition.

“Sometimes the river is our friend, sometimes it’s our  foe,” Couture said, taking an afternoon tea-time break from haying. “Farming on the river, sometimes the river leaves us a bunch of deposits we don’t really want in our fields but overall we have respect for the river. We have a lot of respect for nature and yes, it’s beautiful. But we know it’s there, it’s an element within our communities that we are kind of recognizing and celebrating.”  

Federal recognition usually, but not always, brings funding for planning studies and signage. It also prohibits new dams on wild and scenic rivers. The National Park Service report declares the Missisquoi and Trout Rivers generally eligible for protection, except for a section suitable for hydropower.  The project is also endorsed by the Department of the Interior. Rep. Peter Welch sponsored the legislation supported by Vermont’s delegation.

He says some western states opposed it, but it passed in part because it had strong local support.

“Bottom line, these are two magnificent stretches of the Missisquoi and the Trout Rivers, anybody who hasn’t been there would be well served to go and it’s a recognition of the will of the town voters in these communities that they really place a lot of importance on trying to maintain the quality of those rivers,” Welch said.

Credit Charlotte Albright / VPR
The Missisquoi River winds through fields and forests in several Northeast Kingdom communities, most of which voted to support its federal designation, with the Trout River, as wild and scenic.

Actually, two towns did not support the designation. Lowell voted against it and Jay did not put it on the ballot. Jay selectman Dave Sanders says he’s worried federal regulators will get heavy handed, in return for funding.

“Once we lost local control, we can’t get it back,” Sanders said.

But supporters believe federal recognition of these natural assets will only enhance, not restrict, their use by people who love to fish, swim, and paddle their canoes--and by tourists who feed the local economy.

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