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The Wrack

The Wrack is the Wells Reserve blog, our collective logbook on the web.

Accomplished: York River Watershed Designated "Wild and Scenic"

Posted by | January 5, 2023 | Filed under: Program Activities

At long last, the U.S. Congress has voted to designate eight segments of the York River, totaling 30.8 miles, as part of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. The authorization was included in the Consolidated Appropriations Act (omnibus government spending bill) approved by the 117th Congress and signed by President Biden in the final hours of the session. All four members of the Maine delegation supported the designation, with Congresswoman Chellie Pingree initiating legislation more than 10 years ago and championing it ever since.

The Wells Reserve’s interest in the York River is deep and profound. We are all about rivers that flow to the sea, and the marshes, forests, and fields that adjoin them, and the streams that feed them. With its long stretch of tidal waters flowing through a diverse and beautiful landscape, its clean tributary streams, and its abundant fish and wildlife, the York River watershed is a standout.

Kayaking the York River. Photo: Jerry Monkman.

Many Years in the Making

In 2009, the Wells Reserve joined residents of York and adjacent communities to strategize ways to better protect and steward the York River watershed. One of the programs we examined, then further explored, was the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System coordinated by the National Park Service under the Secretary of the Interior. Thus began more than decade of effort on behalf of this spectacular natural resource.

To get to Wild and Scenic status involved two phases. The first was forming the Friends of the York River in 2010 to seek national legislation and community support for a study bill. The legislation authorizing the study of the river was passed by Congress in December 2014, which led to the second phase: forming a study committee in late 2015 and pursuing the long and involved effort to develop a Stewardship Plan. Once that plan was completed, community support was garnered for its adoption and national legislation. In late 2018, all four communities voted in support of Wild and Scenic River designation and the companion York River Watershed Stewardship Plan—but it took 4 more years before the bill worked its way through Congress and was passed.

What's Next?

Now we are on to the next exciting phase for the York River and its communities: Forming a Stewardship Committee made up of Town-appointed members from York, Kittery, Eliot, and South Berwick. Working with the National Park Service, residents, and partner organizations, the Stewardship Committee will oversee implementation of the Stewardship Plan.

York River joins the national program as a Partnership Wild and Scenic River, making it one of just 17 designated rivers that follow this model and the first in Maine. Rivers that are part of the network benefit from financial and technical assistance from the National Park Service, but are not managed by the federal agency. The partnership principles of local governance and limited federal role are codified legislation.

Over the next couple of years, Wells Reserve will be engaged in implementing the York River Stewardship Plan, providing whatever assistance is needed to further conserve, protect, and understand this Maine national treasure.

Conservation lands of the York River watershed, mapped in 2016.
Conservation lands of the York River watershed, mapped by the Wells Reserve in 2016.

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