Starting in 2009, a group of watershed residents called the Friends of the York River led an exploratory effort to determine whether or not designation of the river as a National Park Service Partnership Wild and Scenic River would be an appropriate way to recognize and protect the York River and its resources. The group garnered widespread support from watershed residents, town leaders, businesses, river users, and environmental and historic preservation organizations to proceed.
The York River Wild and Scenic River Study Bill (Study Bill) was introduced in the House of Representatives by Representative Chellie Pingree in 2011 during the 112th Congress, though the Study Bill failed to make it through the complete legislative process. In May 2013, Representative Pingree re-introduced the legislation in the House (House bill 2197), and in September 2013, Senator Angus King introduced it in the Senate (Senate bill 1520). Congress passed the York River Wild and Scenic Study Act in December 2014.
The Study Bill designates the York River and associated tributaries for study for potential inclusion in the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. If at the end of the York River Study, the river is deemed eligible and suitable for designation as a Partnership Wild and Scenic River and there is local support for such a designation, a new designation bill would need to be introduced and authorized by Congress.