MOUNT VERNON, Va. – Even as they patted themselves on the back for getting the Potomac River named an American Heritage River, officials acknowledged that it will not automatically translate into more federal funds to protect the waterway.
But any amount of attention helps, said Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-Baltimore.
“The fact that we are a heritage river is an argument that we will use whenever we need federal assistance,” Sarbanes said Friday at a Mount Vernon ceremony recognizing the designation.
The 14 American Heritage Rivers were chosen from 126 nominees because they represent the natural, historic, cultural, social and economic diversity of waterways in America. The rivers were nominated by surrounding communities, which had to show that they were already involved in preservation and protection of the rivers.
“There is no new money,” Roger Stephenson, an Interior Department spokesman, said Friday. “This is a way to recognize the communities and their efforts to clean up the water.”
The 14 American Heritage Rivers will be assigned a “river navigator” whose job is to act as a liaison between state and federal governments and the riverside communities trying to protect the waterway.
“The navigator helps us move through the red tape and move projects forward,” said Sarbanes, who said proposed projects in the Potomac watershed include Anacostia River cleanup and preservation of the C&O Canal.
The Potomac’s selection as an American Heritage River means that the river “is being recognized as one of the special rivers in the country,” said Bart Truesdell, an official from the National Park Service.
The heritage rivers were officially announced last summer by President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore. A ceremony for the Potomac River’s designation was scheduled for July 30, but was postponed in the wake of the July 24 shooting of the two U.S. Capitol police officers.
Officials gathered Friday on a crisp fall morning at George Washington’s home, with yellow leaves falling and the river in the background, to officially welcome the Potomac into the exclusive ranks of heritage rivers around the country.
Other American Heritage Rivers include the New River in Virginia and West Virginia, the Connecticut River, the Rio Grande River in Texas and the Hudson River in New York.
Sarbanes was joined at Mount Vernon by Sen. Charles Robb and Rep. James Moran, both Virginia Democrats, Rep. Steny Hoyer, D- Mitchellville, and National Park Service Director Robert Stanton.
Also on hand were representatives of Friends of the Potomac, a group of local officials, experts and neighbors of the river who had pushed for the Potomac’s inclusion on the list.
“It’s an honor,” said a visibly excited Karen Zachary, who wrote the nomination proposal for Friends of the Potomac.
That’s about all it is now, said Hoyer, but the designation could pay off in more concrete terms for the Potomac in the future.
“It will be easier to get funds for American Heritage Rivers,” said Hoyer.