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About The York River

Where is the York River watershed?

York River Watershed

Freshwater from York Pond flows through a small stream, creating the headwaters of the York River, saltwater and unimpeded tidal for over seven miles, it is contained for the most part within the town of York. These rich tidalmarshes comprise some of the largest areas of coastal wetland in Southern Maine and are held wholly in private ownership. The largest of the salt marshes are found 5 to 7 miles from the coastal harbor mouth. The York River has high ocean-like salinity seaward and fluctuating salinities in the upper section influenced by the watershed run off.

As the site for some of Maine’s earliest permanent settlements, this area has supported a wide variety of agricultural, forestry, fishing and hunting activities over the past 350 years.

The York River and its watershed are contained within four southern Maine towns: York, Kittery, South Berwick and Eliot. The York River landscape of rolling hills, old fields, broad marshes, accompanied by open and closed views of its topography, presents an unusual diversity of spaces and makes the images that characterize the landscape through which it runs.

The York River Watershed drains 21,179 acres or 33 square miles. It is listed as a Priority Coastal Watershed by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. The watershed’s elevation rises from sea level to 660 feet. There are 109 miles of streams and rivers in the watershed or 218 miles of river and stream shoreland.

The Water’s Journey
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 before entering the Town of York. Here it is met by Cutts Ridge Brook from the south just before passing under Birch Hill Road and coming under tidal influence. 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 Sewell’s Bridge and Route 103. The River passes Bragdon and Harris Islands, turns sharply around Stage Neck and empties into the Gulf of Maine.

York River Ecology
The York River is an estuary where fresh- and saltwater mix with the tides. The protected coves and marshes act as a “nursery” for young marine fishes, crustaceans, and shorebirds. Salt marsh grasses require regular inundation by salt water. Looking across the marsh, you can see that different species of grasses grow where the terrain is slightly higher or lower.

Shorebirds you may see include great blue herons, night herons, white egrets, tiny sandpipers, many kinds of ducks, and the ever-busy kingfisher. Many birds nest along the marsh edge. Bald eagles and ospreys dive for fish. If you’re lucky, you may see a river otter, muskrat, deer, or fox. More likely you’ll see tracks in soft mud or an otter slide on the riverbank. In the fall and winter, look for harbor seals.

The York River is home to several species of fish that live in the ocean, but return to freshwater to spawn. These include alewives, blueback herring, sea-run trout, and smelt.

Additional Information



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