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Respect the River/Rio — Forest Programs

Okanogan and Wenatchee National Forests

Typical dispersed campsite with compacted ground and lack of vegetation

Typical dispersed campsite with compacted ground and lack of vegetation.


Respect the River originated on the Methow Valley Ranger District, Okanogan National Forest in 1993 and was later adopted by the Cle Elum Ranger District, Wenatchee National Forest. The Okanogan and Wenatchee National Forests merged in 2000, and Respect the River began its implementation on all districts of the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest in FY 2001. The impetus for the creation of Respect the River was the protection of threatened and endangered fish species and their habitats from recreation impacts. The same qualities that make spawning areas attractive to endangered salmon also make them appealing to recreationists. Campers like to cool off in the clean, cold water. The shallow tails of pools are ideal places to ford a creek, and the nice cobble is great for building recreational dams.

Now in its twelfth year, Respect the River continues to improve the habitat of Upper Columbia River steelhead, Columbia bull trout, Upper Columbia River Spring Chinook salmon, Mid-Columbia River steelhead, Mid-Columbia River bull trout, Mid-Columbia River Chinook salmon, Snake River Spring Chinook salmon, Snake River steelhead, and westslope cutthroat trout while continuing to improve the recreation experience of humans.


Recreation use in riparian areas of all districts of the Okanogan and Wenatchee National Forests has led to the following impacts:

Lawn chair toilet

Lawn chair toilet

Stream crossing used for mudding

Stream crossing used for mudding

  • Numerous user-created roads and trails, compacted earth, lack of vegetation and bank erosion caused by vehicles and heavy use at river's edge
  • Numerous unmanaged or dispersed campsites too close to water's edge (within 100 ft.)
  • Firewood cutting in the riparian and in-stream
  • Redd trampling and disturbance of spawning salmon
  • Mudding
  • Poaching endangered fish species
  • Garbage and Human waste
  • Invasive noxious weeds
  • User-built dams
  • Low quality experience for humans


The Okanogan and Wenatchee National Forests use innovative restoration treatments combined with a strong education component to address the problems above. Each ranger district approaches problem areas watershed by watershed. Highest priority has been given to the most degraded watersheds. Once the high priority watersheds have been treated, other impacted watersheds are addressed using Respect the River treatments.

Our current restoration efforts focus on the following:

  • Decommissioning inappropriate user maintained roads and some campsites
  • Modifying user made trails by designating trail access
  • Revegetating damaged areas
  • Building fences and securing boulders to keep vehicles away from stream banks
  • Installing vault toilets
  • Installing interpretive signing to help the public understand the importance of restoration, and how people can enhance fish populations
  • Monitoring and evaluation of restoration and education efforts through monitoring protocols developed for the Respect the River program

Educational components include:

Plastic plaque designed to educate 4x4 users

Plastic interpretive sign (4"x4") used at restoration sites

Respect the River restaurant  placemat

Respect the River restaurant placemat

  • Respect the River restaurant outreach program that uses table tents and placemats with Respect the River messages. These are used in area restaurants.
  • Over 100 newspaper ads with Respect the River messages have been developed and used in local newpapers across both forests.
  • This Respect the River Website-We collaborated with the Santa Fe National Forest, the Umatilla National Forest and the Gila National Forest to create this national website.
  • Public Contact (Contact Rangers)-Forest Service staff, contractors, and/or volunteers visit Respect the River sites and educate campers about current restoration projects, fish and riparian habitat issues and how to be a "River Friendly Camper/Recreationist"
  • Respect the River brochures such as "Be a River Friendly Camper" and "Dispersed Camping Etiquette". These brochures are handed out by our visitor centers and contact rangers.
  • Respect the River temporary tattoos and coloring sheets for kids.
  • Interpretive signs - We have developed signs with topics ranging from "Camping Etiquette 101" to "Please Water Me - an ode to a plant pining" to "Watershed Restoration in Progress-Limited Space for Vehicles".
  • School and Community Programs - We bring Respect the River lessons and materials to Sixth Grade Conservation Camps, 4-H groups, Home school groups, Fly Fishing Groups, Sports and Recreation Trade Shows and Farmer's Markets.
  • Volunteer Programs - In October of 2002, Respect the River implemented an exciting new component of the program. To aid in the successful and long-lasting restoration of dispersed camping areas, we are recruiting volunteer campsite stewards to "adopt" restored sites. Volunteer stewards will aid FS personnel in the inventory, monitoring and maintenance (plant watering, interpretive signing, and trash removal) of campsites. Volunteers will also contact neighboring campers. In speaking with their neighbors, they will interpret restoration activities and provide information about riparian camping etiquette and river ecosystems.


Restoration and Education - The Respect the River program is a logical and collaborative approach to protecting riparian habitat and maintaining recreational opportunities. The three-tiered approach (surveys and public input, restoration, volunteer stewardship) is easy to apply in dispersed recreational areas across the nation, and the program results in concrete improvements in riparian habitat. Through the efforts of Respect the River personnel on the Wenatchee-Okanogan NF, we have improved more than 270 acres of riparian habitat and educated more than 200,000 area residents and recreationists.

Most restoration and redesign work to date has been done on the Methow and Cle Elum RDs. On the Methow RD, Respect the River has treated more than 60 sites (>70 acres) along the Chewuch, Methow, and Twisp Rivers since 1993. The Cle Elum RD's survey and restoration work has focused on the North Fork Teanaway River, the Cle Elum River, Box Canyon Creek, and Swauk Creek and its tributaries. Approximately 200 acres of riparian area have been treated since 1996. Other districts are in the process of surveying and prioritizing sites for Respect the River treatments.

Interpretive sign on Early Winters Creek

Interpretive sign on Early Winters Creek

4-H high school students learning Respect the River monitoring protocol

4-H high school students learning Respect the River monitoring protocol


Fewer illegal roads, user trails, or dispersed campsites have developed in the Respect the River focus areas since the program's inception. The quality of camping has improved; sites are better defined, smaller and more vegetated. There is less trash and human waste. Soil and vegetation damage caused by illegal motorized vehicle use has been dramatically decreased. Bank erosion and illegal firewood cutting have decreased. Recreationists are parking their vehicles and RVs away from the stream banks and helping water revegetated sites. High-school aged volunteers are mastering GPS and GIS technologies as they survey dispersed sites. Most importantly, campsites have remained open and recreationists are receiving a consistent message across the Forest.

Partnerships and Volunteers - Respect the River's work is most successful when supported by community partners. The Kittitas County Board of County Commissioners and the Resource Advisory Committee have provided over $57,000 in a two-year period for campsite restoration on the Cle Elum RD along the North Fork Teanaway. When it came time to plant those restored sites, volunteer members of the Teanaway Tract Owners Association dedicated a morning to planting young Douglas-fir trees. The Cle Elum RD also helped a group of Boy Scouts to create an interpretive trail along the Yakima River in Easton State Park using Respect the River signs.

In the summer of 2002, the Leavenworth-Lake RD began a five-year partnership with a local 4H Forestry Club. High school students surveyed dispersed campsites along the Chiwawa River, and learned mapping and GIS skills. The results of their work allowed the RD to create a watershed level implementation plan for restoration work.

The Washington Conservation Corps, sponsored by the Department of Ecology, has built fences and planted native vegetation at many restoration sites. In the Beaver Creek drainage, the Okanogan Conservation District is providing riparian fencing in FS dispersed sites that complement fencing being built on adjacent Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) campsites. Both areas will be signed with Respect the River signs and be part of the volunteer steward program area to provide a consistent message on state and Forest Service lands.

Successful implementation of Respect the River requires innovative partnerships between recreation, fisheries, botany, wildlife and fire. On the Cle Elum RD, the salary of the contact ranger is shared between recreation and fisheries. The contact ranger checks for Northwest Forest Pass compliance at trailheads and talks with campers in dispersed camping areas. The cost of site restoration is also split between disciplines.


The Respect the River Program is a well established and award-winning program on the Okanogan and Wenatchee National Forests. In a time of declining budgets, our current Forest-wide program emphasis is on working with partners to find more sources of funding. Currently we are working on grant proposals with the Upper Columbia and Mid-Columbia Regional Fisheries Enhancement Groups, non-profit groups dedicated to improving fish and riparian habitat in the Upper and Mid Columbia River Regions.

Main Contact

Tina Mayo
Respect the River Coordinator
Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest
803 West 2nd Street
Cle Elum, WA 98922

U.S. Forest Service
Last modified: April 12, 2012

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