Wild, Scenic, Recreational and Accessible

By Heather Feeney, Public Affairs Specialist 

Twenty-five years after its creation in 1946, the Bureau of Land Management saw an important milestone in its growth as an active steward of America’s natural resources. Fifty years ago this month (December, 1971), the BLM closed on its first land acquisition under the recently created Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF): scenic easements on several hundred acres of private lands along the Rogue River in southwest Oregon -- a waterway itself given the newly minted designation of ‘wild and scenic’ just three years previously.

The Rogue River flows through southwest Oregon
The Rogue River flows today much as it did in 1968, when Congress designated it Wild and Scenic.

The acquisition supported a transformation of the agency begun with passage of the Classification and Multiple Use Act of 1964, which gave the Bureau a multiple-use mandate that included recreation, wildlife, soil and watersheds, along with rangelands and minerals. Congress passed the LWCF Act that same year, recognizing the growing importance of federal lands for recreation following World War II.  Recreational visits to public lands had more than tripled from 1963-68, to 30 million, greater in number than any other use, according to then-BLM Director Boyd Rasmussen.

Two kayakers view the Rogue River from its bank
Boaters, cyclists, hikers and naturalists have long known the Rogue's many values.

People had lived along the Rogue and its tributaries for at least 8,500 years, including the Athabascan and the Takelma. European-American settlers were drawn to the area in the mid-1800s by economic prospects in furs, gold and timber. In the 1930s and 1940s celebrities began frequenting the area, for work and relaxation. By 1974, the area would serve as the setting for the John Wayne-Katherine Hepburn film Rooster Cogburn.

An undated image of a woman holding a baby (early 20th century?)
Rugged conditions along the river made permanent settlement challenging.

Designation of various stretches as wild (33.6 miles), scenic (7.5 miles) and recreational (43.4 miles) in the original Wild and Scenic Rivers Act signaled the nation’s intent that the Rogue’s fishing, boating and scenery remain available for everyone’s use and enjoyment, present and future. Acquisition of property at key points along the river gave that intention reality on the ground.

A drift boat on one of the flat stretches of the Rogue River
Calmer stretches of the river are enjoyed by drift boat.
In a 1988 photo, Vice President George Bush fishes on the Rogue River
In 1988, then-Vice President George H.W. Bush (right) fished the Rogue River.

The LWCF Act authorized funds for developing state and local parks and expanding federal land acquisition programs for recreation, including acquisitions for BLM recreation areas. Amendments to the act in 1968 provided a broader financial base to achieve an annual minimum of $200 million. In August 2020 Congress established a permanent funding stream for LWCF with the Great American Outdoors Act. The fund now receives an annual deposit of at least $900 million.

A bar graph showing acres acquired with LWCF funding by decade
The BLM identifies and nominates parcels for LWCF funding with the help of partners. Willing sellers are paid fair market value for their properties.

To date, the BLM has acquired more than 981,000 acres of land with LWCF funding. Information on each acquisition is available online, using the BLM National LWCF map app

The latest BLM LWCF acquisition at the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument
This parcel was acquired in November 2021 with LWCF funding to improve access to the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument-Wild and Scenic River west of Taos, New Mexico.
An angler casts from the wooded bank of the Rio Grande del Norte River in New Mexico
Fishing is popular on the Rio Grande del Norte. The river was also one of the original group of waterways designated Wild and Scenic in 1968.

President Biden’s America the Beautiful initiative calls for build on existing strategies and tools like the LWCF to conserve and restore 30 percent of the nation’s lands and waters over the next decade, in support of the nation’s economy, health and well-being, and more equitable access to nature and its benefits for all people in America.

Throughout 2021, we are celebrating 75 years of the BLM’s stewardship and service to the American people. With a mission to sustain the health, diversity and productivity of America’s public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations, the BLM manages approximately 245 million acres of public land located primarily in 12 Western states, including Alaska. The BLM also administers 700 million acres of sub-surface mineral estate throughout the nation.

A runner participates in the annual Rogue River Relay race
The annual Wild Rogue Relay takes participants along the Rogue National Wild and Scenic River each June.

The Rogue National Wild and Scenic River is part of the BLM's National Conservation Lands. The National Conservation Lands include nearly 27 million acres of National Monuments, National Conservation Areas, Wild and Scenic Rivers, and National Scenic and Historic Trails. National Conservation Lands conserve the essential fabric of the West, while offering exceptional opportunities for recreation, solitude, wildlife viewing, exploring history and conducting scientific research.