American Rivers creates Blue Trails on waterways

Blue Trails are stretches of river that enjoys special clean water safeguards and are recreational destinations, such as for paddling. (Photo: Michael Paul)

This spring, the busiest man in the country asked a startling question. As President Barack Obama presented his final report on the America’s Great Outdoors Initiative, he wondered, with so many of us bound by work and habit to confined spaces and electronics, “what can we do to break free from the routine and reconnect with the world around us?”

If you follow Trailspace, chances are you know the answer to the President’s question. Go outside.

There’s nothing like hiking through woods to cut through anxiety and tedium. There’s no better cure for a weary imagination than climbing a mountain or hopping in a boat, Huck Finn-style, and floating down a river. And there’s no better community than one formed around a shared, beloved place.

American Rivers is the nation’s leading river conservation organization and had worked hard to make sure that Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors Initiative included rivers. Although there are more than three million miles of rivers and streams in the United States — one within a mile of nearly every American’s home — we all know that not every American has a safe or beautiful river in which to fish, swim, and play. Too many of America’s rivers and streams are polluted or hard to access. For too many communities, it’s difficult to enjoy the natural place that everyone should be able to share.

That’s why American Rivers worked to ensure that Blue Trails were included in President Obama’s plan to provide more Americans access to wild and natural places, and protect such places for future generations. A Blue Trail is a dedicated stretch of river that enjoys special clean water safeguards and is a destination for fishing, boating, and other recreation. Like hiking trails, Blue Trails help people discover rivers and provide a connection between urban and rural communities and the outdoors.

Girls paddle on the Congaree River Blue Trail,  a 50-mile designated recreational paddling trail in South Carolina. (Photo: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)

A special example of this urban-to-rural connection is the Congaree River Blue Trail, the first water trail to be designated a National Recreation Trail in South Carolina by the Department of the Interior. American Rivers worked with a land trust, Congaree National Park, and other local groups to develop the Congaree River Blue Trail, promoting and protecting the river and riverside lands.

Starting near urban Columbia, the Congaree River Blue Trail flows 50 miles and connects with Congaree National Park, which has 20 miles of hiking trails through the largest, continuous old-growth bottomland hardwood forest in the United States. Local groups like Canoeing for Kids use the Blue Trail to teach life skills to underserved youth paddling on the river, and thousands of other paddlers, hikers, and campers are discovering the river and park through the Blue Trail as well. 

In his speech this spring, President Obama emphasized the importance of local, grassroots conservation. When communities come together to highlight, protect, and promote a Blue Trail in their area, a powerful legacy is born.

Blue Trails provide a fun and exciting way to get youth outdoors, planting the seed for future conservation by helping young people value their environment. Blue Trails are also economic drivers, benefiting local businesses and quality of life.

These efforts to protect clean water and critical riverside lands, promote river recreation, and create sustainable economic development and community pride depend on grassroots support. To learn more about how to support Blue Trails, including a step-by-step guide to creating one in your own community, visit


American Rivers is the leading conservation organization standing up for healthy rivers so communities can thrive. It also is one of the outdoor and environmental non-profit organizations that Trailspace supports. American Rivers protects and restores the nation's rivers and the clean water that sustains people, wildlife, and nature. Founded in 1973, American Rivers has more than 65,000 members and supporters, with offices in Washington, D.C., and nationwide. 

Filed under: People & Organizations


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