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Free to Flow

November 29, 1987

The region around Forester Pass, north of Mt. Whitney, is among the most stupendous in the Sierra Nevada. This is the Kings-Kern Divide country. To the north, the snowfields and remnant glaciers feed the vast stream system that becomes the Kings River, ultimately flowing through Kings Canyon and the national park that bears its name. On the other side of the divide, the snowmelt gathers to form the Kern. Flanked by the Great Western Divide, the Kern cuts an incredible trench from the Whitney area straight south through Sequoia National Park and the Golden Trout Wilderness.

Further north, the Merced River rises amid the very highest peaks of Yosemite National Park, ultimately coursing through Yosemite Valley and out into the San Joaquin Valley through magnificent gorges and its own impressive canyon.

Today, all three rivers are formally part of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers system, culminating an impressive drive in Congress over the past three years. The Kern River bill became law upon President Reagan's signature last Tuesday. He signed the Kings and Merced bills barely a month ago. For all the divisiveness in Washington the past year, both Republicans and Democrats, Congress and the Executive branch came together on the wild rivers legislation.

Practically speaking, the wild and scenic rivers designation has one major effect: the barring of any major new dam and reservoir projects on these streams after they have left their respective national parks. But there is significant symbolic meaning to the action as well. For years, the major streams from the Sierra have been dammed in the lowlands to catch their spring and summer snowmelt, providing the irrigation water that has turned the San Joaquin Valley into an agricultural wonderland. Now, the remaining natural portions of the streams have been preserved from their very sources above 13,000 feet down to the foothills so that Californians may marvel at their beauty and enjoy them as recreational resources.

Through their wildness, these rivers have helped carve the majestic Sierra peaks, sculpted their canyons and melded their mountain meadows. The rivers sustain the wildlife, the fisheries and riparian plant life. As passageways into the magic of the mountains, as direct links to the highest summits, they nurture the human spirit. Once man marveled at his ability to harness these rivers. Today, man stands at the river bank in awe of its wondrous, living power. And so it will be for future generations.

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