On this day in 1998, Vice President Al Gore officially designated the Connecticut River as an American Heritage River, one of only fourteen such waterways in the nation to be labeled as such. In his remarks, Gore recognized the central role the Connecticut played in shaping not only the environment and physical character of New England, but also the economic and cultural history of the region. He also praised the incredible work done by local environmental and community groups in cleaning up rivers like the Connecticut, Cuyahoga, and Potomac, which had reputations for being infamously polluted only a few decades earlier.
The Connecticut River was a prime choice for such a special distinction: As New England’s largest river, it runs through four states at a length of 410 miles, and its watershed covers an incredible 11,000 square miles. Once it was officially labeled an American Heritage River, the Connecticut River and surrounding environs (most notably wetlands) were granted federal protections, and future cleanup and conservation efforts were made eligible for special federal funding. Expanding on efforts that had begun with Connecticut’s passage of America’s first Clean Water Act in the 1960s, local towns assumed greater control over wastewater treatment and industrial runoff and spearheaded a number of environmental studies that helped balance out the river’s bacteria, fish, and native aquatic plant populations.
In the years since the Connecticut River became an American Heritage River, water in the river once called “the world’s most beautifully landscaped cesspool” has only continued to improve, and encouraging signs of better environmental conditions are plentiful. The region’s population of bald eagles has dramatically increased, and wild Atlantic salmon nests were spotted in the river for the first time in nearly 200 years in 2016.
Al Gore, American Heritage Rivers announcement (video), C-SPAN
“An American Heritage River,” connecticuthistory.org