I was drawn to water as a young boy. There was a creek behind our house where we would catch frogs, some nearby ponds where we would fish in summer and ice skate in winter, even a river where we would not only fish but launch Styrofoam rafts in our best Huck Finn impersonation.
With that background, I guess it was only natural that I became a white-water raft guide in college in West Virginia, tackling the Cheat, New and Gauley rivers, and that later I would explore Rocky Mountain rivers and lakes by raft, kayak and canoe.
And so when I heard earlier today that the Park Service was being honored by none other than Harvard University for its innovative rivers management program, it naturally caught my eye...particularly the part where the agency is cutting this program's funding by nearly a quarter.
Harvard's Ash Institute for Democratic Governance and Innovation honored the Park Service as one of just six federal programs among the institute's 2007 Top 50 Government Innovations. The programs are intended to link citizens with public services.
In the case of the Park Service, the agency was singled out for its Partnership Wild and Scenic Rivers program. Through this program, the agency helps other groups manage officially designated "wild and scenic" rivers.
"These programs represent the very best of public management," says Gowher Rizvi, who is the institute's director. "We are honored to highlight innovative practices that produce renewed confidence in public service."
According to the folks at American Rivers, the Park Service's Partnership Wild and Scenic Rivers program takes a conservation approach that involves "all levels of government and private interests in studying, planning, and managing National Wild and Scenic Rivers. The federal Wild and Scenic Rivers designation provides the strongest level of protection available for rivers that are free-flowing and possess outstanding values, mostly on federal lands."
Among the rivers that the program aids are the Farmington River in Connecticut, Great Egg Harbor and Musconetcong rivers in New Jersey, the Lower Delaware River in Pennsylvania and the Wekiva River in Florida.
"The Partnership Wild and Scenic Rivers Program shows decision makers all across the country that amazing results are possible when public and private entities pool their resources and work together," says Rebecca R. Wodder, president of American Rivers. "The NPS leadership has an opportunity to reward true innovation in its midst by requesting enough funding to sustain and grow this unique program. Let's hope it doesn't drop the ball."
Wodder's concern that the Park Service might "drop the ball" arises from the fact that the Park Service is proposing to cut the program's funding by 22 percent, from $1.1 million to $858,000.
"The Partnership Rivers Program shows it doesn't take a mountain of money to make a meaningful difference," says Wodder. "The time has come to reward this program for being a true leader in collaborative conservation."