YORK, Maine — For Karen Arsenault, the federal recognition of the York River has been a 14-year endeavor.
"I'm very happy," Arsenault said while standing in front of the frozen landscape of Smelt Creek, part of the York River watershed.
And for decades, the watershed has been maintained by the towns of Eliot, Kittery, South Berwick, and York. Now, it will have additional funding from the federal government.
"I think this river is very important, and I wouldn't have spent 14 years trying to get designation if I didn't feel it had the kind of values that warranted the kinds or protections that would have been allowed through this designation," Arsenault said. She is on the York Land Trust.
Those protections will come now after the designation was included in this month's omnibus spending bill. Arsenault said the funding amount is unclear but will include funding for education and the preservation of the waterway.
"To protect the river resources and to educate the whole community along with future landowners," Arsenault said.
U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, has been a champion for the river's designation since the 2000s, according to Arsenault.
Pingree said in a statement this week that this designation has been a long time coming.
“A ‘Wild and Scenic’ designation for the York River is a vital step in permanently protecting the York River and ensuring access to clean water and a thriving working waterfront for generations to come," Pingree said. “After working with the surrounding communities to complete this designation since my earliest days in Congress, I’m thrilled the provision was included as part of this year’s funding bill. With federal support, the York River, which has always been an incredible asset to the communities it runs through, will be a regional gem far into the future.”
Arsenault said the protections are essential as wild marshlands like the York River watershed provide a buffer for sea level rise amid climate change.
"In terms of climate change all of this is very important and for the wildlife around the York River," Arsenault said.