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December 04, 2016
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The miracle of the Upper Delaware

[Below is a written version of the remarks delivered by River Reporter assistant editor Anne Willard on the occasion of receiving a Special Recognition Award from the Upper Delaware Council on Sunday, April 22, for her editorials related to river corridor issues.]

The first time I saw the Upper Delaware River, to the best of my memory, was about 20 years ago. I came up through Port Jervis and drove up along Route 97; and as I was driving the thought that kept on going through my head as I looked around was: “How the heck did this happen?”

You see, I lived in Brooklyn at the time, and had grown up in Dobbs Ferry, on the lower Hudson River. The Hudson is a great and beautiful river, but in the lower area where I lived, except for the Palisades Park, every square inch of anything that can be called waterfront has been paved over, worked over, built up, torn down and just generally transformed into part of a human streetscape, no longer a natural feature.

That was why I was so astonished to see, a bare hour and a half from NYC, another of the nation’s great rivers, so much of which seemed to have remained largely pristine. And it’s not that there wasn’t human habitation, but where there was, it complemented and harmonized with the natural amenities, without overrunning them. It seemed like a miracle.

Soon after that first visit I moved up here. But it wasn’t until long after that I began to find out what was responsible for this miracle. And while I think in fact there is more than one factor involved, one that is clearly absolutely key is the corridor’s Scenic and Recreational River designation, along with the River Management Plan (RMP) written to administer it, and the organization charged with the RMP’s implementation, the Upper Delaware Council (UDC).

That’s why, a few years ago, I thought it might be worthwhile to start sitting in on the meetings of this body and to try to understand how it works.

In terms of my own role, I feel that it is particularly important to communicate with the public about the UDC because the Scenic and Recreational Delaware, unlike a federally owned national park, was designed to preserve the communities as well as the natural amenities of the river. Communities are made up of people, and in order for the RMP to work, those people need to be aware of what’s at stake. They need to be a part of the conversation. And this will become ever more important as the threats to the delicate balance that is the miracle of the Upper Delaware accelerate in an increasingly overcrowded world.

In recent years there’s been a lot of emphasis on natural gas drilling, but that will scarcely be the last challenge we face, even apart from the tussle that has already been going on for years over our water. This area stands between the vast natural resources to the north, especially in Canada, and resource-hungry metropolitan areas to the south. As the appetites of the urban areas grows, one purveyor after another—like NYRI and its power line —are likely to see this area as the shortest route, literally and metaphorically, to profit, and only by vigilance and community involvement will we be able to preserve not only the natural resources but the human way of life that we value.

Although the river corridor is narrow, and the actual area covered by the RMP correspondingly small, it is in a way the heart and soul of the entire area. It anchors its character, making it a unique tourist, outdoor recreational and second-home destination—not to mention the health and wellbeing of its human and non-human denizens—and preserving this anchor is key to sustaining this area economically as well as ecologically. In the face of exploitive outside interests for whom the wellbeing of this area is purely incidental, the Scenic and Recreational River designation is perhaps the most powerful tool we have to protect ourselves, and this council is the hand that wields it.

I am honored and grateful that the UDC has chosen to give me a special recognition award, and I would like to take the opportunity to return the favor and to recognize, and thank, the UDC. Thank you, all of you, for what you have done to preserve the miracle of the Upper Delaware. May you long continue to do so.