The American Heritage Rivers Initiative (AHRI) is a network of locally-driven partnerships working to improve quality of life and promote sustainable development. AHRI was established in 1997 by Executive Order 13061, with three objectives: natural resource and environmental protection, economic revitalization, and historic and cultural preservation.
Fourteen "American Heritage Rivers" were designated in 1998, out of 126 nominations. Each designated river community has received initial assistance from a federally-funded “RiverNavigator” who serves as a liaison between the community partner organization(s) and over a dozen federal agencies. River Navigators help match available federal resources with specific needs identified by the river communities. They help resolve bureaucratic issues, coach nonprofit organizations, leverage funds, provide technical assistance on specific projects, and nurture partnerships across all levels of government and with private entities, and more.
AHRI helps to build local capacity for tapping into the full range of federal sources of funding. It provides incentives and support to build strong public-private partnerships for stewardship and revitalization efforts. The permanent designation as an American Heritage River offers a unique advantage for communities to promote nature and heritage tourism, plan riverfront redevelopments, protect watersheds, and meet other regional needs and interests. Community organizations in designated rivers are making a difference with projects for restoring river habitats, strengthening local economies, celebrating regional culture and history, teaching watershed stewardship, and rebuilding community pride.
Examples of Key Partners
American Heritage Rivers (designated in 1998):
Blackstone-Woonasquatucket Rivers (RI/MA)
Connecticut River (CT, NH, MA, VT)
Cuyahoga River (OH)
Detroit River (MI)
Hanalei River (HI)
Hudson River (NY)
Upper Mississippi River (MO, IA, IL, WI, MN)
Lower Mississippi River (LA, TN)
New River (NC, VA, WV)
Potomac River (MD, DC, PA, VA, WV)
Rio Grande (TX)
St. Johns River (FL)
Upper Susquehanna-Lackawanna Rivers (PA)
Willamette River (OR)
White House Council on Environmental Quality - Interagency Task Force on American Heritage Rivers:
Formal partners: Departments of Defense, Justice, Interior, Agriculture, Commerce, Housing and Economic Development, Transportation, and Energy; Environmental Protection Agency; Advisory Council on Historic Preservation; National Endowment for the Arts; National Endowment for the Humanities.
Other partners: Department of Education, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Small Business Administration, and General Services Adminstration.
Results and Accomplishments
American Heritage River community partners appreciate the new working relationships and information exchange as much as the benefits of specific projects. Some of the most valued accomplishments include:
Leveraging federal funding to attract other public and private investment
Fostering and communicating a community vision for local riverfronts and watersheds
Providing improved public access (parks, promenades, bike paths, water trails, boating infrastructure)
Attracting people back downtown to revitalized riverfronts
Protecting, restoring, and reusing historic properties
Celebrating local history and cultural legacies with special events, exhibits, and films
Restoring fish and wildlife habitats, improving water quality, protecting watersheds
Developing and applying new technologies for restoration, protection, monitoring, and modeling
- Building sustainable, community-based partnerships
Achieving a balanced approach among economy, environment, and society
Bringing added value to community projects
Sharing data, best practices, funding opportunities
Establishing networks of specialists across designated AHRs
Fostering flexibility in government programs
Creating efficiencies for better, more responsive government