Established by the U.S. Congress in 1968, the National Wild & Scenic Rivers system protects “certain selected rivers of the Nation which, with their immediate environments, possess outstandingly remarkable scenic, recreational, geologic, fish & wildlife, historic, cultural, or other similar values.” To be considered “Wild & Scenic,” a river must have at least one outstanding natural, cultural, historical, or recreational feature.
The Westfield River became Massachusetts’ first National Wild & Scenic River when forty-three miles were designated on November 2nd, 1993. Today, the designation has been expanded to encompass over 78 miles of the Westfield River’s three major tributaries and headwater streams.
As a state-administered Wild & Scenic River, the Westfield River is unique in that the management of the National Wild & Scenic River designation is accomplished through locally-based and state protection. Since a mix of public and private lands border the designated reaches of the Westfield River, state and federal agencies, municipal officials, landowners, business owners and other community members share responsibility for the Wild & Scenic River designation and management.
To learn more about the National Wild & Scenic Rivers System, visit www.rivers.gov
Frequently Asked Questions:
Wild & Scenic Designation
- What does ‘wild and scenic’ mean?
- How many miles of the Westfield River have been designated?
- When was the Westfield River designated?
- What are the benefits of federal Wild and Scenic River designation?
- How were segments of the river determined to be eligible for the federal designation?
- How can the Westfield River be considered “free-flowing” if dams such as Knightville and Littleville Dams exist along the designated river segments?
- What is a locally initiated National Wild and Scenic River designation?
- What is the process for achieving locally initiated National Wild and Scenic River designation?
- How does State designation work?
- What are the benefits of Local Scenic River designation?
- What is the management plan for the Westfield River?
- Who manages the Westfield River Wild & Scenic Designation?
River Corridor Use
- How does the designation change the way communities use the river?
- Does this designation give the public access to private land?
- Will there be federal land acquisition?
- Will wild and scenic designation prevent all future riverfront development?
- Are there any current local zoning bylaws which protect the Wild & Scenic resources along the Westfield River?
- What state regulations protect the Wild & Scenic river values?
- What is the definition of a water resources project?
- What effect does WSR designation have on other federally assisted water resources projects?
- What types of projects may fall under the purview of Section 7 of the Act?
- What is required of the administering agencies under Section 7 of the Act for proposed water resources projects?
- Who is the federal administering agency for the Wild & Scenic Westfield River?
A. Under the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act (further referenced to as “the Act”), a river must be free flowing in a natural condition, and possess outstandingly remarkable scenic, recreational, geologic, fish, wildlife, historic, or cultural features in order to be designated “wild and scenic”.
A. The Westfield River Wild and Scenic designation includes corridors that stretch for 78.1 miles along the East Branch, Middle Branch and West Branch of the Westfield River. The corridor width is 200 feet wide from mean high water, corresponding to the width of the Massachusetts River Protection Act. Designated segments include:
- 5 miles of the headwater streams of the East Branch including Drowned Land, Center and Windsor Jambs Brooks (Windsor, Savoy)
- 28 miles of the East Branch (Savoy, Windsor, Cummington, Chesterfield, Huntington)
- 13 miles of the Middle Branch (Worthington, Middlefield, Chester, Huntington)
- 0.4 miles of Glendale Brook (Middlefield)
- 14 miles of the headwater streams of the West Branch including Shaker Mill, Depot, Savery, Watson and Center Pond Brooks (Becket, Washington)
- 16 miles of the West Branch (Becket, Middlefield, Chester)
- 0.8 miles of the Main Stem (Huntington).
A. The Westfield River became Massachusetts’ first National Wild & Scenic River when 43.3 miles were designated in 1993. In 2004, the Wild & Scenic reaches nearly doubled when 34.8 miles of the river were designated.
A. Federal designation will protect a river from new federally built or permitted dams and other water resource projects (i.e. diversions, channelization) that have an adverse effect on the free-flowing values of the river. Under locally initiated Wild and Scenic designation, there is an emphasis on local control and management. One of the benefits of this honor is that more resources – in the form of technical assistance and grants – are available to the communities along these pristine stretches.
A. In order to be eligible, a river segment must be naturally free-flowing and have “outstandingly remarkable” scenic, recreational, geologic, fish and wildlife, historic, cultural or other features.
A. Congress did not intend all rivers to be “naturally flowing,” i.e., flowing without any man-made up- or downstream manipulation. The presence of impoundments above and/or below the segment (including those which may regulate flow regimes within the segment), and existing minor dams or diversion structures do not necessarily render a river segment non-eligible. There are segments in the National System which are downstream from major dams or are located between dams.
In the case of the Westfield River, the officially designated “Wild & Scenic” portions do not include the impounded areas above and immediately below the Littleville & Knightville dams. On the Middle Branch, the designation extends down to the confluence with Kinne Brook in Chester and then begins again from the Goss Hill Road Bridge in Huntington. The East Branch designation ends at a point 0.8 miles upstream of the confluence with Holly Brook in Chesterfield and then begins again at the confluence of Sykes Brook in Huntington.
A. There are two ways a river can become a National Wild and Scenic River. One method is by an Act of Congress. A second method is by a locally initiated National Wild and Scenic River designation. This was the method used for the Westfield River. Under Section 2aii of the WSRA, communities or states can nominate a river (or parts of a river) to be designated “wild and scenic” by the federal Secretary of Interior. Rivers designated in this manner continue to be administered by the state (sometimes with assistance from local governments), except for any federal lands along the river. If there are federal lands located along the river, the state and federal river-administering agencies may enter into an agreement to outline federal/state management roles and responsibilities and/or provide for management and protection of river values.
A. First, a management plan is prepared for the river, describing how communities and state agencies will permanently administer the river as a wild and scenic river. Then, the river must be “designated as a wild, scenic, or recreational river by or pursuant to an act of a State legislature”, according to the WSRA. Next, the Governor must make an application to the Secretary of the Interior for federal designation. The Secretary of Interior makes a decision on designation based upon how well the river meets the criteria set out in the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.
A. The Massachusetts Scenic and Recreational Rivers Act, M.G.L. Chapter 21, section 17b, and the associated regulations authorize the Commissioner of Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), formerly the Dept. of Environmental Management (DEM), to restrict or regulate the water of rivers and streams for scenic or recreational purposes through the adoption of protective orders. The DCR Publication, Massachusetts Scenic and Recreational Rivers (DEM, 1982) notes that after completion of a management plan and a demonstration of local support, the river can be designated as a Local Scenic River.
A. The DCR Publication, Massachusetts Scenic and Recreational Rivers (DEM, 1982) notes that designation as a Local Scenic River “will mean that applications for 1) Self-help and Land and Water Conservation Funds for riverfront acquisition and 2) state purchase of agricultural preservation restrictions within the protected zone will receive additional priority”. State designation of a Local Scenic River is also an essential step toward achieving National Wild and Scenic River designation.
A. Since 1993, the Westfield River Greenway Plan set forth the basic management plan for protecting the Westfield River. One of the key strategies in the Greenway Plan was to get the Wild and Scenic designation. Now that has been achieved and expanded upon, the Plan is out of date. A new guiding Westfield River Wild & Scenic Stewardship Plan is being developed to help inventory and manage the outstanding resources for which the river was given the designation.
A. The “Memorandum of Agreement for Protection of the Westfield River” --- an intergovermental compact --- describes the river segments included in the designation, and the specific roles and responsibilities of each signatory community, agency or organization in protecting the river. The MOA also established the Westfield River Wild & Scenic Advisory Committee (WRWSAC), which is comprised of representatives of the towns of Becket, Chester, Chesterfield, Cummington, Huntington, Middlefield, Savoy, Washington, Windsor and Worthington, as well as the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the National Park Service, Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, The Trustees of Reservations and the Westfield River Watershed Association. Representatives are appointed by their local elected officials or appropriate authorities in the organizations they represent.
A. The wild and scenic designation does not change how the river is used for fishing, boating, swimming or other uses. It simply empowers river communities to play a more active role in protecting the river corridor from uses that would degrade its scenic qualities.
A. No. This designation does not allow public access over private property. Public access is limited to existing public lands, and land ownership is in no way affected by this designation.
A. There is no federal land acquisition associated with this designation. The Act explicitly prohibits federal land acquisition on Section 2(a)(ii) rivers.
A. No. Local communities will still be responsible for planning and regulating new development in accordance with state and local land use laws. The wild and scenic designation will not change this.
A. The communities of Chester, Chesterfield, Cummington, Huntington, Middlefield, and Worthington all passed River Protection Bylaws prior to receiving the Wild & Scenic Designation. The bylaws established buffers, septic setbacks, and special permits procedures for construction within the River Protection and Floodplain Overlay Districts. These zoning bylaws were passed before the Rivers Protection Act of 1997. Currently, the Westfield River Wild & Scenic Advisory Committee is drafting a Model River Protection Bylaw to update the existing bylaws to make them more consistent with existing regulations, as well as, provide a model the communities who do not have a local bylaw in place at this time.
A. Several state regulations protect river values, including, but not limited to: Wetlands Protection Act (310 CMR 10.00), Rivers Protection Act (310 CMR 10.58), Forest Cutting Practices (304 CMR 11.00), Massachusetts Endangered Species Act (321 CMR 10.14).
A. Any hydroelectric facilities licensed under the Federal Power Act, or other federally assisted (constructed, licensed, permitted, funded) projects, which would affect the freeflowing characteristics of a WSR.
A. Section 7 of the Act prohibits any department or agency of the United States from assisting in the construction of any water resources project that would have a “direct and adverse” effect on the values for which the river was established. It also precludes federal assistance to projects below/above a designated river that have been determined to “invade the area or unreasonably diminish the scenic, recreational, and fish and wildlife values present . . . as of the date of designation. . . .” The “direct and adverse” standard applies to projects within the river corridor, while the “invade or unreasonably diminish” standard applies to projects outside the corridor.
A. Examples include, but are not limited to:
- Any dam, water conduit, reservoir, powerhouse, transmission line, or other project works licensed under the Federal Power Act;
- Other federally assisted projects such as dams, water diversion projects, fisheries habitat and watershed restoration/enhancement projects, bridges, roadway construction/reconstruction projects, bank stabilization projects, channelization projects, levee construction, recreation facilities (e.g., boat ramps, fishing piers), and activities that require a Section 404 permit from the ACOE.
A. Administering agencies must evaluate proposed water resources projects under the appropriate standard of Section 7. The result of that evaluation should be provided to the federal proponent or federal agency providing assistance. A Section 7 determination is not conducted as a NEPA analysis. It is, however, typically conducted in response to another federal agency’s permitting or environmental analysis process.
A. The National Park Service.