Wild & Scenic Designation

What does "wild and scenic" mean?

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".

Does this designation give the public access to private land?

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.

When was the Westfield River designated?

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.

What are the benefits of federal Wild and Scenic River designation?

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.

How were segments of the river determined to be eligible for the federal designation?

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.

How can the Westfield River be considered "free-flowing" if dams such as Knightville and Littleville Dams exist along the designated river segments?

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.

Locally-Initiated/State Designation

What is the process for achieving locally initiated National Wild and Scenic River designation?

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.

How does State designation work?

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.

What are the benefits of Local Scenic River designation?

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.

River Management

What is the management plan for the Westfield River?

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. An updated Westfield River Wild & Scenic Conservation & Stewardship Plan was developed in 2021 to continue to guide efforts to improve, protect and manage the outstanding resources for which the river was given the designation.

Who manages the Westfield River Wild & Scenic Designation?

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 Wild & Scenic Westfield River Committee (WSWRC), 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.

River Corridor Use

How does the designation change the way communities use the river?

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.

Will there be federal land acquisition?

There is no federal land acquisition associated with this designation. The Act explicitly prohibits federal land acquisition on Section 2(a)(ii) rivers.

Will wild and scenic designation prevent all future riverfront development?

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.

River Protection

Are there any current local zoning bylaws which protect the Wild & Scenic resources along the Westfield River?

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. Many of our communities have undertaken Municipal Vulnerability and Hazard Mitigation planning under new state initiatives. This work is to make our communities more resilient in the face of climate change.

What state regulations protect the Wild & Scenic river values?

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).

What is the definition of a water resources project?

Any hydroelectric facilities licensed under the Federal Power Act, or other federally assisted (constructed, licensed, permitted, funded) projects, which would affect the free flowing characteristics of a WSR.