The Farmington River
The Upper Farmington River is a gem located in the northwest corner of Connecticut. The Wild & Scenic section stretches from just below the Goodwin Dam to the Nepaug River confluence in Canton.
People come from all over to enjoy the Farmington River's scenic beauty and recreational opportunities. Since certain water flows are required to be maintained year-round, and the water comes from the bottom of the dam, this stretch of river is one of the premier fishing destinations in New England.
Besides fishing, boaters and tubers can enjoy the class I-III rapids found on this stretch, especially the more challening rapids at Satan's Kingdom State Recreation Area. State forest lands also border much of the river, providing excellent picnicing and camping opportunities, including American Legion and Peoples State Forests. People enjoy hiking on the numerous trails in Peoples State Forest and along the blue-blazed Tunxis Trail, camping at the Austin Hawes Campground, and biking, boating, and fishing along the entire Wild & Scenic River.
Background on the National Wild & Scenic Designation
Congress established the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System in 1968 to protect certain outstanding rivers from the harmful effects of new federal projects, such as dams, hydroelectric facilities, bank armoring and bridges. To be considered "wild and scenic," a river (or river segment) must be free-flowing and have at least one outstandingly remarkable natural, cultural, or recreational feature. As of March 2019, the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System included 226 river segments in 41 states and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, covering 13,413 river miles. To put that in perspective, note that this number is less than one half of one percent of the nationa's rivers. Of all those rivers, several are located in New England:
Allagash Wilderness Waterway (ME), Wildcat River (NH), Lamprey River (NH), Nashua, Squannacook, Nissitissit Rivers (NH and MA); Westfield River (MA), Taunton River (MA), Sudbury, Assabet, and Concord Rivers (MA), Missisquoi and Trout Rivers (VT), Wood and Pawcatuck River (CT and RI), Eightmile River (CT), Lower Farmington River and Salmon Brook (CT), and the West Branch Farmington River (CT).
Why the Farmington River?
Local interest in special protections for the Farmington River began in the early 1980's when the Metropolitan District Commission (MDC), the utility supplying water to (at the time) about 400,000 people of the greater Hartford area, proposed a diversion from existing water supply and multiple-use reservoirs on the West Branch to augment their supply. Local residents, town officials, and the Farmington River Watershed Association (FRWA) expressed concern that the proposed withdrawal would impair the natural resources and recreational and scenic values of the river. Although the proposal was rejected in a 1981 referendum of MDC member towns, concern about the project lingered in the Farmington Valley. At the same time, many residents were becoming alarmed at the increasing rate of development along the river's banks and the threat that shoreline development would pose to the natural integrity of the river.
In an attempt to address these concerns, the FRWA and towns along the river requested assistance from the National Park Service in 1982 to evaluate the significance of the river's resources and recommend strategies for conserving and managing the river. This initial study, finalized in 1984, concluded that the Farmington River possessed a variety of significant resources, and that both local residents and government officials were dedicated to conserving river qualities. Furthermore, it was recognized that land use and ownership along the Farmington River are significantly different than those currently under federal management elsewhere. As a result, the report's principal recommendation was to develop a plan that would "establish a regional cooperative partnership between all levels of government and private groups and individuals to develop explicit and integrated policies for the future use and management of the Farmington River corridor."
Federal legislation was enacted to study the river
Building on the findings in the 1984 report and with growing interest in adding federal protection to town and state efforts, Connecticut Congresswoman Nancy Johnson introduced legislation in 1984 to have the West Branch of the Farmington River studied for inclusion in the National Wild and Scenic River System. In addition to considering the river's qualification for inclusion in the National System, this legislation was intended to stimulate a cooperative planning process among river interests to conserve the river's critical resources.
When Congresswoman Nancy Johnson and former Senator Lowell Weicker, Jr., proposed this legislation, they clearly proclaimed that federal land acquisition and management would not be considered as a river conservation technique. Local efforts were recognized in the Farmington Wild and Scenic Study River Final Report dated May 1995 as the foundation for river protection: "It would be inappropriate and largely ineffective for federal government to provide permanent protection from adverse federally assisted water resource projects offered through Wild and Scenic River designation without assurances from the other river interests that they are committed to doing their part to protect the river through their own authorities and abilities." To get this type of commitment, all stakeholders, including private landowners, town governments, state agencies and private organizations had to show their interest, support and commitment to river protection.
- A number of actions were taken that demonstrated the support of stakeholders for designation.
- Town meetings were held with votes of support for designation taken.
- Town adoption of River Overlay Protection Districts.
- Responses to questionnaires reflecting landowner and resident support for river conservation were compiled (the greatest perceived threats to the river were from water pollution, growing population and commercial development; the activities to be encouraged were water quality and flow protection, and wildlife habitat, forest lands and scenic quality conservation).
- Workshops were held to promote voluntary land conservation through conservation easements and other means.
- An instream flow and watershed yield study, managed by the State of Connecticut and co-funded by the MDC and National Park Service, was undertaken. This study was instrumental in demonstrating that sufficient water existed in the West Branch Farmington River watershed to support instream needs for the outstanding natural resources, and recreational and scenic values of the river, while providing up to 20 million gallons of water per day for public consumption.
- The Connecticut State Legislature passed public act 25-175 proclaiming its support for designation.
- The MDC, FRWA and State of Connecticut provided substantial staff time to the development of the Study Report and Management Plan.
- Many local, regional and national private organizations supported designation. Specifically, the local organizations including the FRWA, Farmington River Anglers Association, and the Farmington River Club, advocated tirelessly for designation.
Public Law 103-313 was signed by President Clinton on August 26, 1994, designating a 14 mile portion of the Farmington River in Connecticut as a component of the National Wild & Scenic River System. Through this legislation, the outstanding natural resources, and recreational and scenic values of the Farmington River will be protected. Protection will be assured through town, state and federal agencies, and private organizations and citizens as established in the Upper Farmington River Management Plan. There is to be no federal land acquisition.
A segment in Massachusetts was included in the original study and was found eligible for inclusion. Local authorities chose not to pursue designation at that time. That segment remains eligible for inclusion in the National System, however. Should local sentiment change, it too can be included with the Connecticut segment in the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System.