Scenic and Historic York River

Did you know that the York River, the home waters of the Powatan Confederation, location of America’s busiest early colonial port, site of the last major battle of the American Revolution, occupied port during the ‘War of Northern Aggression,’ and seafood breadbasket for the people who have lived along her shores, has not been officially declared scenic or historic?  Well, we’re going to do something about that.  And, the first major step occurs this coming Monday.

On Monday, July 13 2015, Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR, for short) will conduct a survey of the York River. The Virginia Scenic Rivers Program’s intent is to identify, designate and help protect rivers and streams that possess outstanding scenic, recreational, historic and natural characteristics of statewide significance for future generations. This program is managed by the state and should not be confused with the federal Department of the Interior’s Wild and Scenic Rivers Program. One of the program’s strengths is the partnership forged between citizens, local governments and the state. This partnership begins in the evaluation phase and continues through and after the designation process.

Months ago, the Watrermen’s Museum contacted DCR personnel to find out more about the program.  From that initial research and conversations, we formed a committee of regional community partners, ranging from private and public organizations and government agencies that occupy York River shoreline to interested non-profit, educational, and tourism, organizations.  We developed briefings, coordinated and conducted public meetings, and met with county and city boards surrounding the river.  From that effort, we received the support of both York County and Gloucester County to move forward on the first step of the process…conducting a survey to see if the York River meets the criteria for moving forward.  (We believe it does.  But, we need to go through the formal process.)

So, on Monday, a skiff (provided by Patriot Tours and Provisions) and the sailing Schooner Serenity (provided by Yorktown Sailing Charters) will travel the river with staff from DCR to do the initial survey that begins the evaluation phase of the program.  We plan to leave the Watermen’s Museum at 8 AM and sail up one shoreline.  Then, we’ll come back down the other side.  All along the way, DCR will be evaluating the River’s attributes against the formal checklist.

So, what impact will this designation have on the York River, and the people that live along it or work upon it?  Here are the benefits:

  • Provides opportunities to consider scenic and other resources in planning and design.
  • Focuses Federal Energy Regulation Commission (FERC) reviews of hydro or related project proposals.
  • Encourages closer review of projects and proposals by state agencies and localities.
  • Requires General Assembly authorization for dams.
  • Provides for continued existing appropriate riparian land uses.
  • Allows for project review and monitoring of designated river segments by governor-appointed Board of Conservation and Recreaton and DCR.
  • Provides framework for appointment of a local Scenic River Advisory Committee.
  • Provides eligibility for land use tax considerations, if locally adopted.
  • Download What the Designation Does and Does Not Do (PDF) for more detail.

You can download a citizens guide which explains the program here: Download A Guide to Citizen Involvement in the Scenic River Designation Process (PDF) for more detail.

See the Daily Press article: Yorktown Watermen’s Museum wants scenic and historic designation for York River, January 15, 2015

See WTKR news announcement: Local leaders work to declare York River as scenic and historic, January 16, 2015

See Gloucester-Mathews Gazette-Journal article: Effort to promote York River communities underway, February 04, 2015

See Williamsburg-Yorktown Daily article: Watermen’s Museum Seeks Historic Designation for York River, February 6, 2015