The York River watershed covers 33 square miles in parts of South Berwick, Eliot, Kittery, and York. A watershed is the land area from which water flows to form the network of tributaries and brooks that contribute to a river system. While the York River itself is about 13 miles long, the York River watershed includes 109 miles of streams. The York River is a tidal river, with small unnavigable freshwater tributaries feeding into a relatively large tidal basin. Tidal fluctuation can be more than 10 feet.
The York River has its headwaters in South Berwick and flows to the Gulf of Maine. The following description of the water’s journey is adapted from the Wells Reserve’s York River Watershed Conservation Strategy Report.
The York River begins at the northwest corner of York Pond and quickly flows into the Upper Bartlett Mill Pond in Eliot. It then travels south to southeast through woodlands and under Brixham Road and Frost Hill Road before entering the town of York and coming under tidal influence. Here it is met by Cutts Ridge Brook (which originates in Kittery) from the south just before passing under Birch Hill Road. The River continues its travels, twisting and turning, in an easterly direction where it converges with Rogers Brook and Smelt Brook. As the River begins to widen, it turns in a more southerly direction where it is crossed by Scotland Bridge Road. At this point, Bass Cove Creek (which leads in from Boulter Pond) and Cider Hill Creek, both from the north, connect to the River. Across from the outlet of Cider Hill Creek, Dolly Gordon Brook and Libby Brook converge and empty into the River from the South. The York River then passes under the Turnpike and Route 1. It curves around Ramshead Point, continuing in a southeasterly direction, where it is crossed by Sewall’s Bridge and Route 103. The River passes Bragdon and Harris Islands, turns sharply around Stage Neck and empties into the Gulf of Maine.
The watershed includes large areas of undeveloped forest land and open space, including over 5,600 acres of conservation and water supply lands representing about 27% of the total area. Within the watershed, the Kittery Water District owns four man-made ponds and dams located in the Town of York. These ponds – Boulter Pond, Folly Pond, Middle Pond and Bell Marsh Reservoir – provide water to the residents of Kittery, the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, and portions of York and Eliot.
Read about what makes York River special: Poster on York River’s outstanding resources