Potomac River
Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, District of Columbia
American Heritage Rivers

The Potomac River and its watershed lie at the heart of the American experience, from the river's agricultural highlands to the Capitol and monuments of Washington, DC. Flowing 383 miles and draining a basin of 14,670 square miles, the Potomac has played a key role in the nation's history. The Potomac basin contains the first evidence of inhabited structures in North America, the homes of Paleo-Indians who inhabited the Shenandoah Valley some 12,000 years ago. In modern times, the basin has been a passage to the west, a boundary between North and South during the Civil War, home of the nation's seat of government, and a gathering place for all Americans.

River Resources

The vast majority of the Potomac basin is rural and much of the land is used for agriculture. Poultry raising and processing are important to a number of local economies, particularly along the northern and western stretches of the river. Heritage tourism plays an increasingly important role in the region's economy. More than half the international visitors come to see Colonial and Civil War sites, and the many monuments and sites of the National Capital region.

A major environmental restoration effort has been under way since the 1960s, when President Lyndon Johnson declared the Potomac "a national disgrace." Treatment plant construction has led to a 90 percent reduction in polluted wastewater entering the lower reaches of the river. The river basin is a major waterfowl flyway and, despite the urban nature of Washington, more than one-third of bird species that inhabit North America can regularly be seen in the Capital region. In addition, the river is home a variety of fish which provide recreation for anglers, including trout and bass.

Community Action Plan

The action plan for the Potomac involves dozens of communities and is aimed at three broad goals: continued improvement in water quality and environmental restoration along with development of effective flood control plans; promotion of the region's rich historical heritage and recreational opportunities; and involvement of citizens at local levels. The action plan is designed to improve communication and planning among the river's diverse communities and interests.

The American Heritage River designation includes the entire Potomac River Basin, excluding Hardy County, West Virginia and Old Town, Maryland.


Karen Zachary, Coordinator - Potomac River American Heritage River Nomination (703) 522-8783

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