History and Habitats – highlights

The York River watershed includes many exemplary resources and values: cultural and historic resources; biodiversity and natural resources; recreational and scenic values; and water quality and watershed services. The York River Watershed Stewardship Plan identifies resources that are most valued by the community and includes strategies and actions to protect or enhance those resources. The river’s many unique, rare, and exemplary values, plus its clean water, made it eligible for designation into the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System – and are worthy of protection for the benefit of current and future generations.

Read more about what makes the York River watershed so special: York River’s outstanding resources


The watershed contains diverse and well-preserved cultural and historical resources. The York River and its tributaries have provided a safe harbor and human access to abundant coastal, riverine, and inland natural resources for thousands of years.

Some outstanding cultural and historic resources in the watershed include:

  • Working waterfronts involving fishing piers, wharves, and town docks; the first of its kind dock conservation easement to maintain commercial fishing operations and access occurred on the York River
  • Historic dams and mill sites
  • Nationally and locally significant historic districts, sites, buildings, structures, and landmarks (e.g., National Register of Historic Places district and properties, local historic districts, privately protected historic resources)
  • Connections to nationally significant events and persons (e.g., Samuel Clemens, May Sarton, Captain John Smith, Rufus McIntire, Thomas Morton, etc.)
  • Nationally significant bridges (e.g., Sewall’s Bridge, thermoplastic bridge, Wiggly Bridge)
  • Archaeological sites that yield information important to history or prehistory (e.g., early Euro-historic settlement sites, Punkintown settlement, shipwrecks, terrestrial and submerged Native American archaeological sites, maritime industrial sites such as shipbuilding, brick-making, fishing, river and tidal milling sites)
  • Active historic community, artistic inspiration, and other historic river-related activities (e.g., Old York Historical Society, tourism)


The York River watershed, much of which is characterized by large undeveloped forest areas and healthy stream buffers, supports diverse and rare species and exemplary natural habitats. The estuary is one of the least disturbed marsh-estuarine ecosystems and possibly the most ecologically diverse coastal drainage area for its size in the Gulf of Maine.

Some examples of the exceptional natural resources and biodiversity in the watershed include:

  • Approximately 500 acres of salt marsh habitat, representing 10% of salt marsh in York County and the largest intact coastal wetland area in southern Maine; these coastal wetlands provide habitat to many species, store large amounts of carbon, and protect adjacent areas from flooding and erosion
  • Productive tidal flats/mud flats
  • Watershed includes part of the largest intact coastal forest between Acadia and New Jersey Pinelands
  • Exceptional diversity and wide array of special habitats created by biome transition of northern and southern forests
  • Greatest diversity of threatened and endangered species of any Maine region (e.g., New England Cottontail, ringed boghaunter dragonfly, saltmarsh sharp-tailed sparrow, Blanding’s and other turtles, rare plants)
  • Diverse fish species and diverse array of supporting habitats, including spawning habitat
  • Diversity of birds and extensive bird habitat, including rookeries; part of Atlantic flyway with presence of almost all water birds from entire flyway
  • Protected headwaters for York River and many major tributaries, healthy riparian corridors, and intact stream buffers
  • Species and habitat diversity makes the watershed an important area for numerous conservation initiatives