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Patuxent River

“Wild and Scenic” Designation

Issues and Goals

In 2004, environmental groups worked to gain a federal designation of “Wild and Scenic” for the Patuxent River by the U.S. National Park Service. If a river receives this designation, it typically receives federal and state funding for in-depth studies of river health, usually followed by money to improve river function and health. In response, multiple parties that used the river and its resources for their livelihood or recreation came into conflict.

The Patuxent River Commission (PRC), a state agency charged with stewardship of restoring the river and protecting its cultural, economic, and recreational values, wanted to know if the river’s stakeholders would support the PRC’s application for Wild and Scenic designation. The goal was to move beyond a binary “yes or no” choice on whether the designation was a good idea so the parties could find more areas where they shared common ground.


The Confluence Collaboration team conducted a situation assessment to explore ways of using collaborative tools to resolve this conflict and reach an agreeable solution for the involved parties. The situation assessment included interviews with approximately 45 stakeholders based on their interests and values (farmers, environmentalists, etc.). We interviewed members from each group one-on-one to understand their perspective and desired outcomes regarding the Wild and Scenic designation. This process involved facilitating interest-group-specific meetings, drafting summary reports, and making recommendations to the parties.


  • Our team submitted a situation assessment to the PRC. It recommended continuing the stakeholder process with complete disclosure of differences and issues among the stakeholders.
  • To respond to the multiple parties’ needs and desires, our facilitation team emphasized broadening the focus beyond the single issue of the Wild and Scenic River designation to address several issues, including irrigation, drainage, and aquatic health issues.
  • The PRC decided not to move forward with a multi-issue consensus process and did not apply for the federal designation. The PRC’s decision fairly reflected the strongest interests of agricultural and commercial watermen along the 135-mile river, who wanted to minimize federal oversight.
  • The situation assessment saved money and time on exploring other consensus-building processes that were unlikely to resolve this conflict due to strong opposition by agricultural and commercial fishing groups to the Wild and Scenic River designation. This process provided avenues for meaningful stakeholder engagement that allowed the groups to avoid costly litigation.