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Scenic Rivers Program FAQ

What is the purpose of the Scenic Rivers Program? Its purpose is to identify, designate and protect rivers and streams with outstanding scenic, recreational, historic and natural characteristics.

Is the program federal? No, the Scenic Rivers Program is managed by the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation. The federal Department of the Interior’s Wild and Scenic Rivers Program is managed separately and has its own criteria. For more information about the federal program, visit www.rivers.gov. For a list of federal programs related to managing, protecting and promoting rivers in Virginia, see chapter VII-F of the 2007 Virginia Outdoors Plan.

How did the program begin? Its enabling legislation, the Virginia Scenic Rivers Act, was passed in 1970.

How many rivers are included in the system? As of May 2009, there were 24 river segments totaling 529 miles. Click here for a list of designated rivers.

What criteria are evaluated for Scenic Rivers? Each river segment is evaluated using 13 factors or criteria; these were established to provide a uniform gauge by which all waterways are measured. Major factors include water quality, corridor development, recreational access, historic features, natural features, visual appeal, quality of fisheries, and the presence of unique habitat or species.

How is the Scenic River Designation decision made? If a river qualifies, DCR staff prepares a scenic river report describing the waterway. The report includes support from local governments and comments from state agencies. If the locality wants the designation to go forward, it must get its legislators to take a bill to the General Assembly for consideration. When the bill is passed by the General Assembly and signed by the governor, the waterway is designated as a scenic river.

What is DCR's role? DCR administers the Virginia Scenic Rivers program and periodically assesses conditions along each scenic river segment. DCR also supports the program’s advisory board, informing the board of program-related issues.

Does scenic river designation allow public access to private lands? Only if the private landowner allows it. There are no additional rights along scenic river corridors for the general public.

What protections are effected with designation? State and federal agencies must consider how projects and programs affect state scenic rivers. DCR helps localities develop planning tools to enhance the conservation and protection of scenic river corridors. Ultimately, the given locality decides which protection measures to institute.

Does designation provide any tax considerations? For properties along designated scenic rivers, a special tax assessment may be given to reduce the tax liability, as valued by the State Land Evaluation Advisory Council, if adopted by the locality.

Does designation give the state control over land use? No. Instead, it gives riparian landowners and other local citizens a stronger voice in any government action or decisions that may impact ‘their’ river.

Click here for more information on what the Scenic River Program does and doesn't do.