The natural environments provided by watersheds are highly valued for their aesthetic, social, spiritual, and recreational value. They provide opportunities to pursue recreational and leisure opportunities ranging from hiking, cycling, and picnicking, to swimming, fishing, boating and a variety of other active and passive activities. Watersheds are home to a diversity of cultures, ethnic groups, and differing recreational interests. Outdoor recreation is one of the primary ways in which all people residing in a watershed area can react with the environment. This interaction with nature and human beings transcends generations and cultures, and is one way that connects people together as a society. In Maine this is especially true.
Watersheds also encompass a diversity of ownerships within their geographic boundaries. In many cases public ownership of lands by federal, state, or municipal entities provide conservation lands that include forests, meadows, lakes and river corridors that are accessible to the public for various forms of recreation. Many of these agencies also provide management plans to protect land from over-use, and some place limitations on certain activities such as all-terrain vehicles, snowmobiles, or river-users, and may charge a fee to support their enforcement practices. Passive activities like hiking, bird-watching, hunting or fishing are generally recognized as less damaging to natural resources and usually have few, if any restrictions placed on them.
Paper companies in Maine own vast tracts of land and historically have managed them to include public access. These lands in private ownership have changed owners multiple times in recent years and often constitute large areas within important watersheds. While many landowners have allowed recreational activities to take place on their property, some owners now charge fees for accessing the resources within their holdings.
When kayaking or canoeing on rivers one should avoid fishermen who usually prefer the quiet solitude of their own activity. Regardless of your activity you should extend a special effort to "leave no trace" connected to your visit to natural, undeveloped areas. Park in designated areas at access points and act courteously at all times. Use existing trails or campsites and make sure you pack out what you carried in, and dispose of human waste properly. Do all you can to protect resources and avoid disturbing wildlife during your visit. As much as we would like to view watershed recreation taking place in quiet woodlands and pastoral meadows, we must recognize that urban areas also provide recreational activities taking place in a watershed. Golf courses, tennis courts, athletic fields, and parklands are important areas for recreation in southern Maine and along the coast, but often may contribute to a number of negative environmental impacts to their watershed. In older, more heavily populated communities, open space may occur in a haphazard fashion, not having the benefit of the sound planning principles in use today. In newer communities the values of open space and areas for passive recreation are retained as core values, however homes adjacent to these areas often encroach, and people build fences, dump yard waste, cut trees, and otherwise contribute to fragmentation of the landscape.
In the urban landscape there also exist terrestrial and aquatic habitats, albeit substantially modified to accommodate a particular human recreational use. While it is important to retain natural vegetation, open space for recreation often includes plantings of non-native species that support a visual aesthetic and provides only limited natural habitat for native species. Golf courses often draw water from creeks and streams that have an impact on flow and fish habitat. Runoff from pesticide and fertilizer applications may exceed the ability of the natural system to assimilate these nutrients. Channelized watercourses and stream bank stabilization increases downstream flooding, and removing riparian vegetation elevates water temperatures, killing aquatic species. Publicly accessible open spaces in urbanized watershed areas usually include parking lots, and other highly erodible areas adjacent to athletic fields and parks. The storm water drainage from these areas is often directed straight to streams; either as overland flows or via storm drains and pipes. Most have no storm water controls, and thus the water volumes and pollutants that enter waterways are uncontrolled and contribute to in-stream erosion and water quality problems.
Maine is fortunate to have a broad diversity of recreational amenities throughout its borders. Our watersheds stretch from the Bigelow Mountains to the shores of Acadia, and sustain a rich biodiversity of plant and animal species. Recreation in both rural and urban settings provides our citizens with unique opportunities to pursue their interests in many ways. The key is to retain a sustainable, and publicly accessible, open space system that contributes to improvements in the ecological health of the watershed and improved social benefits. Watershed management is critical in balancing the human need to recreate with the ecological criteria necessary for a sustainable system that inevitably includes rural and urban recreational activities. Through close examination of the entire spectrum of recreational activities taking place in a watershed, proper planning can help to minimize human impacts on our watersheds.
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|American Whitewater is a leading boaters-rights advocacy organization. Visit them online at: www.americanwhitewater.org||Maine Riversí mission is to protect, restore and enhance the health and vitality of Maine's Rivers. www.mainerivers.org||River Network is a national leader in supporting grassroots river and watershed conservation groups. www.rivernetwork.org||RiverSmart is a national public education campaign helping Americans understand how daily water usage affects rivers. www.riversmart.org www.riversmart.org|
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