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 Partnership Wild and Scenic River in the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System would be an effective 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 designated the York River and associated tributaries for study for potential inclusion in the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. Now that the study is complete and the river was deemed eligible and suitable for designation as a Partnership Wild and Scenic River, a new bill needs to be introduced and authorized by Congress to designate the York River and tributaries into the National System.