The Working Waterfront

Delegation hopeful York River gets scenic designation

Reintroduced bill would bring federal funds, protection

Posted 2021-04-21
Last Modified 2021-04-21

Maine’s Congressional delegation has reintroduced the “York River Wild and Scenic River Act,” legislation to initiate the final step in the process to add the river to the National Park System’s Wild and Scenic Rivers Program. If the bill is passed by Congress and signed by the president, the York River will receive federal protection and funding.

“The York River is an incredibly important resource for Southern Maine,” the delegation wrote. “After legislation to study it and years of outreach with the towns of York, Eliot, Kittery, and South Berwick and residents of the communities, it is clear how meaningful the river is to the character of the region.”

Seeking the designation has been a decades-long process.

The watershed—a shared York, Eliot, Kittery, and South Berwick resource—buffers the region from development pressure, noted Judy Spiller, a town councilor for Kittery and chairwoman of the York River Study Committee.

“The pristine forested areas supply clean drinking water. And in the future, if protected, the watershed will provide resilience in the face of rising sea levels,” she said. “And perhaps most importantly, the York River and its tributaries are an inspiration to all those who encounter it. Designation will preserve that for us and our children and our children’s children.”

The river possesses scenic beauty, a well-preserved history, and diverse natural ecology, noted Jennifer Hunt, the study coordinator.

“The river’s healthy salt marshes capture and store carbon, provide important habitat for many species, and help mitigate coastal flooding. These community benefits provided by the river are increasingly important with climate change impacts.”

Reps. Chellie Pingree and Jared Golden originally introduced legislation to add the river to the “wild and scenic” list in February 2019; Sens. Angus King and Susan Collins introduced companion legislation in the Senate in December 2020. These bills followed a three-year study funded by legislation Pingree and King introduced in 2011 and Congress passed in 2014—conducted by local stakeholders which recommended the designation.

In 2018, voters in York and Eliot overwhelmingly passed referendums to move forward with the designation, as did the town councils of Kittery and South Berwick.

The wild and scenic river designation would direct more federal funding and technical assistance to the area, while lifting the York River’s profile as a national destination. It also would provide a local forum for the four watershed communities to collaboratively address long-term river stewardship needs.