River facts: Fun stats, history, and features of East Coast rivers

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Fast Facts

  • Along the East Coast Greenway, 50 key rivers total over 7,000 miles.

  • All of the original 13 colonies are on the East Coast. Pennsylvania doesn’t directly touch the coast, but the Delaware River does.

  • Up until the emergence of railroads in the 1830s, rivers and other waterways were the most commonly used way to travel long distances in the U.S.

  • ⅔ of drinking water in the United States comes from rivers and streams.

  • The East Coast is the most populated coastal area in the country.

  • $97 billion of river-related recreation and tourism is created annually in the U.S.

Top 10 longest rivers along the Greenway

  • Susquehanna River
  • Roanoke River
  • Connecticut River
  • James River
  • Hudson River
  • St. Johns River
  • Potomac River & Tributary Anacostia
  • Savannah River
  • Delaware River & Tributary Schuylkill
  • Ogeechee River

Top 10 largest watersheds on the Greenway

  • Susquehanna River
  • Santee
  • Potomac
  • Altamaha
  • Hudson
  • Savannah
  • James
  • Roanoke
  • St. Johns
  • Cape Fear

Watersheds of the East Coast Greenway

atlantic salmon in penobscot river credit to associated press


The Penobscot River, located in central Maine, has the largest Atlantic salmon run in the United States. It is also the largest river entirely in Maine.

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New Hampshire

The Piscataqua River flows along the border of Maine and New Hampshire and its ownership was divided down the middle with a decree by King George II in 1740. The two states disputed the boundary for years.

our partner paddle boston charles river canoe and kayak


The Head Of The Charles Regatta is the largest 2-day regatta in the world with 11,000 athletes rowing in nearly 2,000 boats on the Charles River. The river divides Cambridge and Boston.

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Rhode Island

In 1790, Samuel Slater established the country's first successful textile factory on the Blackstone River in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. This is considered the birth of the North American Industrial Revolution.

River Recreation

John MacGregor, a Scottish explorer, is considered the founder of recreational canoeing. Prior to the mid 1800s, canoes were chiefly used for transportation, trade, and war. Historically, canoes have been made from logs, animal skins and tree bark. Birch bark was commonly used in the U.S. and Canada because of it was lightweight, waterproof, smooth and abundant, making it ideal for travel on rivers and lakes.

Water Use

The average American has a water footprint of 32,911 gallons/day. This includes water used for the production of food, energy, clothing and other goods. It takes about 6,800 gallons of water to grow a day's food for a family of four. 80% of the fresh water used in the U.S. is for irrigating crops and generating thermoelectric-power.

River Pollution

The first Earth Day was held April 22, 1970 as a reaction to many environmental disasters, including a fire in the Cuyahoga River in Ohio. The federal Clean Water Act was passed in 1972. Forty years later, the percentage of water considered safe for fishing and swimming has doubled across the country. One major threat to rivers is stormwater pollution. Rain often washes litter, oil, and other pollutants from infrastructure, like roads, into the river basin. The East Coast Greenway, with its intent to be lined by green space as a linear park, can be part of the solution by both shifting car trips to bike rides and walks and by creating natural landscapes that filter pollutants and reduce erosion feeding into our corridor's streams, creeks, and rivers.

connecticut river credit benfrantzdale wikimedia cc header american rivers


The Connecticut River is home to the nation's oldest continuously operating ferry, the Rocky Hill-Glastonbury Ferry which began operation in 1655.

gwb credit to new york post

New York

The George Washington Bridge, which crosses the Hudson River, is the tallest bridge of the Greenway and 4th tallest in the nation. From the top of the structure to its base, the GWB stands 604 feet tall.

hudon river walkway jersey city credit east coast greenway photo

New Jersey

The natural beauty of the Hudson River inspired artists and writers to form the famous Hudson River School movement in the mid-1800s. Artists created many landscape paintings with themes of discovery, exploration, and settlement.

delaware river penn treaty park phila pa credit ecg


The Schuylkill River in Philadelphia has played important roles in the American Revolution, the Industrial Revolution, and the Environmental Revolution. Benjamin Franklin left money in his will to help protect the river.

Glossary of River Words


Originates from the Carib word “kenu” which means dugout and from the Arawakan word canaoua and Spanish word canoa.


The beginning of a river.


(Ki ak/qayaq) translates to “man-boat” in Inuktitut.


The end of a river.


“River that flows both ways”: what the Mohican tribe called what we now know as the Hudson River, before English and Dutch settlers arrived.


One of the nation's largest rivers; European spelling for the Algonquin word Patawomeke, which means "place where people trade" or "great trading place." The word is also similar to the Greek word for river, potamus.

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The Delaware River is the longest free-flowing river east of the Mississippi River and is one of the only rivers on the East Coast still home to the American shad fish.

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The Susquehanna River, which flows through New York, Pennsylvania, and Maryland, is the longest commercially non-navigable river in the United States. It is also the largest river lying entirely within the United States that drains into the Atlantic Ocean.

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Washington D.C.

The Potomac River forms the border between Washington D.C. and Virginia. The river was named the "Nation's River" by President George Washington and proclaimed one of the 14 American Heritage Rivers by President Bill Clinton in 1998.

james river association canoeing


The James River is known as “America’s Founding River” because the first permanent English settlement was established on its banks.

River otters

The North American river otter once lived in every state in the United States, but its populations have significantly reduced due to water pollution, habitat loss, and trapping for the fur trade. River otters can stay underwater for up to 8 minutes.

Wildlife fast facts

Freshwater animals are disappearing five times faster than land animals. Of the 1,200+ species listed as threatened or endangered, 50% depend on rivers and streams. At least 123 freshwater species became extinct during the 20th century. These include 79 invertebrates, 40 fishes, and 4 amphibians.


Manatees are related to elephants, not dolphins or whales. The West Indian manatee lives in rivers and coastal waters from Florida to Brazil.

neuse river 3 credit zach frailey american rivers

North Carolina

The Neuse and Chowan Rivers are two of the first English-named American landmarks (1584).

arthur ravenel jr bridge credit vanessa kauffman

South Carolina

The Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge, which crosses the Cooper River, is a part of the East Coast Greenway and the longest cable-stayed bridge in North America.

satilla river


The Satilla River is one of 30 blackwater rivers on the East Coast. The tannins in the water make the rivers appear darkly stained, like tea or coffee.

indian river lagoon preserve park credit to marine discoverey center


With over 4,000 plant and animal species, Florida’s Indian River Lagoon system is considered North America’s most diverse estuarine environment.

Photos and information compiled from our East Coast River Relay partner organizations and other riverkeeper and environmental organizations. We appreciate the important stewardship these organizations do.

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