ST. JOHNSBURY (AP) - Two Vermont rivers are a step closer to being designated as part of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers system, a project that highlights the unique cultural, scenic and recreational qualities of these rivers without hindering commercial or recreational activities along the rivers.

The National Wild and Scenic Rivers system was established in 1968. Legislation that included the Upper Missisquoi and Trout rivers in northern Vermont was passed Thursday by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

"This is a major step on the path toward designation, which will highlight the outstanding and remarkable scenic and recreational qualities of the Missisquoi and Trout Rivers," said Jacques Couture, chairman of the Upper Missisquoi and Trout Rivers Wild and Scenic Study Committee.

"Many people in the local communities have worked hard to bring this designation to help us highlight the recreational use of the rivers while maintaining the rights of landowners and residents who have a stake in the rivers' future," Couture said.

The legislation that passed Thursday was proposed by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders and supported by Sen. Patrick Leahy. Vermont U.S. Rep. Peter Welch has proposed similar legislation in the House.

The scenic river program, under the auspices of the Department of the Interior, now includes rivers in 40 states.