Public Health & Recreation

Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed Association Plans Inaugural 7 Rivers Festival in June

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To celebrate the designation of the Wood-Pawcatuck watershed as a National Wild & Scenic River, the Wood-Pawcatuck Wild and Scenic Rivers Stewardship Council is planning the first 7 Rivers Festival in June.

The Wood-Pawcatuck watershed encompasses a 300-square-mile area of land in southwestern Rhode Island and southeastern Connecticut. Its seven major drainage basins include the Queen, Wood, Chickasheen, Chipuxet, Shunock, Green Falls, and Pawcatuck rivers and their tributaries. The rivers in the watershed meander through 12 towns in two states: Charlestown, Exeter, Hopkinton, North Kingstown, Richmond, South Kingstown, West Greenwich and Westerly in Rhode Island, and North Stonington, Stonington, Sterling and Voluntown in Connecticut. According to the Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed Association (WPWA), it is one of the few remaining relatively pristine natural areas along the northeast corridor between New York and Boston.

The Wood River — the largest of six tributaries that link up with the Pawcatuck River to eventually spill into Little Narragansett Bay — is New England’s most biodiverse river, according to a National Park Service (NPS) survey in the early 1980s. The survey, in addition to pointing out the river’s attributes, sparked interest in the watershed’s potential and set in motion a decades-long drive toward preservation.

The stewardship council is scheduled to hold festival events June 25-26 in locations in southwestern Rhode Island and southeastern Connecticut. Kassi Donnelly, the Wild & Scenic Rivers coordinator for the WPWA, said the goal is for participants “to enjoy a weekend of festivities and to share pride in our lands and waters. This national Wood-Pawcatuck Wild & Scenic Rivers designation is special. We have natural resources that are rare or unique on regional and national levels.”

Donnelly said many events will be held on the watershed’s 57 miles of river, including kayaking, canoeing and paddling. The council is planning to host educational talks during the festival, and the Rhode Island Canoe & Kayak Association, along with the Southern New England Paddlers, will host a river paddle. The Audubon Society of Rhode Island will host a nature walk, and there will be fly-tying and fly-fishing activities hosted by the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management. The Avalonia Land Conservancy, South Kingstown Land Trust, Westerly Land Trust, the Mushroom Hunting Foundation, Milltown Arts Association, and public libraries in Exeter, Charlestown and West Greenwich, R.I., and Stonington, Conn., are all planning events or activities as well.

The mission of the WPWA, created in 1983, is “to preserve and protect the integrity of the lands and waters of the Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed for the benefit of natural and human communities.” The association deals with a wide range of issues, including land use, surface and groundwater use, water quality, threats to habitat, growth issues, and river corridor concerns.

After a nearly 10-year effort, the WPWA’s waterways were designated wild and scenic by the National Wild & Scenic Rivers System in 2019. Only 1% of the country’s 3.6 million miles of waterways have earned this designation, which is usually bestowed by Congress. The federal guidelines state a river must contain an aspect that has “outstandingly remarkable value” to be named a National Wild & Scenic River. The designation, set out in the 1968 Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, can bring in funding, draw on NPS resources and maintain the free-flowing condition of the watershed’s rivers.

Donnelly said the association formed the Wood-Pawcatuck Wild and Scenic Rivers Stewardship Council to prioritize projects that highlight the value of the watershed. The council includes representatives from the 12 municipalities in the watershed, as well as the Narragansett Indian Tribe, Save The Bay, the NPS, and Rhode Island and Connecticut environmental agencies, according to Donnelly.

The WPWA maintains a campus on the upper Woods River, at 203 Arcadia Road in Hope Valley, where there is free access kayaks, paddleboards and canoes.

To book an event for the 7 Rivers Festival, contact the WPWA at 401-539-9017 or email wildevents@wpwa.org.

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