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Outstandingly Remarkable Values

The Wild and Scenic Rivers act requires that in order to be designated a particular river must demonstrate Outstandingly Remarkable Values (ORVs). ORVs are scenic, recreational, geological, fish- related, wildlife-related, historic, cultural, botanical, hydrological, paleontological, or scientific characteristics. An ORV must be a river-related value and an unique, rare, or exemplary feature that is significant at a comparative regional scale.  The act recognized the following types of ORVs:


Click on each ORV above to learn more about how it is represented in the proposed Nooksack River Wild and Scenic designation. 



Wildlife abounds in the Nooksack Watershed.  Photo: Daniel Nylen

The proposed Nooksack Wild and Scenic area include is home to many wildlife species. The original assessment of the Nooksack River listed the following wildlife species, including two that are on the federal ESA list:

Wildlife on the federal Endangered Species Act List:


The Nooksack River is one of the few watersheds of Puget Sound that is still home to all five species of Pacific salmon. These anadromous fish that make the epic migration from freshwater streams of the Pacific Northwest to the ocean and back again are icons of this region and the heart and soul of the culture of the northwest.

The salmonids include the five main types of salmon shown in the image above and several other important species of anadromous fish found in Pacific Northwest waters. These species rely on both fresh and marine habitats, as this life cycle diagram illustrates, and play a critical role in the northwest ecosystem.

Endangered Fish Species

Many populations, or stocks, of these iconic fish are listed as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Three of these endangered populations are found in the Nooksack Watershed:

Puget Sound Chinook salmon: The largest of the five main salmon species, small numbers of wild Chinook return each fall to spawn in the Nooksack River. Local stocks include a critically endangered population of around 250 South Fork Chinook that have a unique life history that is considered vital to the overall genetics of the endangered Puget Sound population. 

Puget Sound steelhead: Steelhead are rainbow trout that display an anadromous life history, migrating between saltwater and freshwater habitats for spawning. Steelhead are able to survive their first spawning and will make the arduous journey through the watershed 2-3 times in their lifetime. 


Bull trout: These fish are a variety of char that can be either resident or migratory. In the Nooksack, bull trout can move readily between freshwater and salt water habitats and spawn in the mainstem and forks. ​

Puget Sound Chinook salmon
Puget Sound bull trout


Palm leaf fossil in Chuckanut Sandstone.

Geological features of note in the proposed Nooksack Wild and Scenic designation include active glaciers in the Cascade Mountains and the Nooksack Cirque, a distinctive curved valley on the eastern slopes of Mt Shuksan that was carved by glaciers. There are also isolated patches of fossilized palm forest vegetation in the Chuckanut sandstone formation, as shown on the image to the left.  These seemingly exotic and tropical palm frond fossils are always a surprising site along an evergreen forest trail!



This part of the Nooksack watershed is without a doubt incredibly scenic, with abundant old-growth evergreen forests, jagged mountain peaks, crsystaline blue glaciers, and, of course, gorgeous rivers and streams. The North Fork Valley in particular is recognized in particular for it's scenic ORVs, with a few key areas highlighted below. 

Mt Shuksan dominates the horizon over the North Fork Nooksack River. Photo: Bonnie Rice
The North Fork Nooksack River flows glacial blue for much of the year.  Photo: Daniel Nylen
Looking down Nooksack Falls.  Photo:  Chuck Martin, Flickr Creative Commons

The headwaters of the North Fork flow from glaciers on Mt. Shuksan. At 9,131 feet and 10,781 feet in elevation, the peaks of Shuksan and Mt. Baker dominate the horizon throughout the North Fork Valley.  The South and Middle Forks also have stunning mountain vistas. Here Mt. Baker is joined by the peaks of the Twin Sisters, whose colorful rockfaces inspired the Nooksack Tribe to name it Kwetl’kwítl’ Smánit, or Red Mountain.

Crystal clear and bright blue, the glacier-fed waters of the North Fork tumble loudly through beautiful rapids at Horseshoe Bend in the Mt Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. This popular trail along the North Fork Nooksack River attracts thousands of visitors each year.

Near the Horseshoe Bend trailhead is 88 foot tall Nooksack Falls, the location of an historic power generation site and favorite stop of many visitors to the North Fork Valley. This is just one of hundreds of destinations in the Nooksack watershed that draw recreationists. Hundreds of miles of trails crisscross the Wild and Scenic proposed area, much of which is part of Mt Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest



Historic power plant on the North Fork Nooksack, circa 1905. Photo: Washington State Archives

The waters of the upper reaches of the Nooksack River have been home to human communities for thousands of years. Coast Salish peoples who called this area home including the Lummi, Nooksack, Samish, and Semiahmoo tribes had permanent and seasonal villages scattered throughout the area, and built a complex and rich culture around the salmon, timber, and wildlife resources abundant here.  

European settlers began establishing communities along the Nooksack River in the mid 1800s, and focused on logging, mining, and fishing to harvest the seemingly never-ending natural resources of this rich area. Historic sites from this early period of exploration and extraction are scattered throughout the designation area, including early mining and logging cabins, and the Nooksack Falls hydropower plant site. 



Rafting the Nooksack River

The proposed Wild and Scenic designation is crisscrossed by trails and includes a National Forest, a National Park, and state public lands.  Opportunities for outdoor recreation of all types abound. This includes both water dependent recreation like kayaking, canoeing, rafting and fishing and land-based activities like mountaineering, skiing, hiking, hunting, foraging, camping, mountaineering, and skiing.  

The area draws hundreds of thousands of visitors a year and is growing in popularity among white water enthusiasts as more find their way to the Nooksack River.

The Middle Fork Nooksack River has a Class V section of whitewater that has become a popular destination for kayakers. Check out the video to experience this wild ride!

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