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Major Rivers - What areas make up the York River & Small Coastal Basins in Virginia?
The York River System (upper and lower)
From Tidewater Low Country Almanac written by Sally Hicks Mills, 1997*
"Often called "sister" rivers, the Mattaponi and Pamunkey join in West Point to form the mighty York. Both are considered pristine by east coast standards. The Mattaponi is the only major river of the Middle Peninsula formed in the coastal plain. The Pamunkey, by contrast, is formed by the North Anna, South Anna, and Little rivers in the piedmont. The lower York is wide and full of history.
Extensive marshes and thick bank vegetation continue to buffer the upper rivers from runoff and sediment problems. Bald eagles and osprey are frequent seasonal residents, as are Canada geese and other waterfowl coveted by area hunters. The rivers are also home to largemouth bass, and white and yellow perch. Rare and endangered plants found in the watershed include the mat-forming water hyssop (Bacopa stragula), the sensitive joint vetch (Aechynomene virginica), and the large-fruited wild senna (Cassia fasciculata), which happens to be endemic solely to the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
Threats to the upper York's water quality include conversion of waterfront farmland into residential or commercial uses, and water withdrawal plans that currently include a reservoir on the Mattaponi and talk of another on the Pamunkey. The Mattaponi & Pamunkey Rivers Association is currently working to produce a set of strip maps to serve as a paddler's guide to the upper rivers. On the lower York, point source pollution from industrial users and federal facilities is the biggest threat.
Getting on the upper rivers is difficult, and you'll need to prepare for a long float in between access points. On the Pamunkey, you can access the river at the landing at Route 602/604., at the bridge overpasses, and then at the public landing near Lester Manor (some 20 + miles away!) You can access the Mattaponi at Zoar State Forest or at the Aylett Public Landing on Route 600, at the Melrose Ldg. on Route 602, at Waterfence Landing off Route 611 in Shanghai, and at the West Point Glass Island Ldg. off Route 33 at the bridge. The landings have boat launch ramps and fishing docks."
"The Piankatank and its headwaters, Dragon Run, are wild and unspoiled. The river flows approximately 21 miles and boasts a fine bass fishery. The Dragon is renowned for its pristine waters and rich natural resources - including several hundred acres of hardwood swamp, stands of ancient baldcypress trees, rare wildflowers (like feather foil, Hottonia inflata), and a tremendous warbler population. Canoeing during summer can be tricky, since the Dragon's narrow creeks wind through thick vegetation, and are subject to low water flow and more than a few beaver dams and downed trees.
The Dragon Run Steering Committee hopes to develop management policies for development, agriculture, forestry, recreation, and wildlife. As part of that effort, the committee is currently working on a watershed management plan.
The Piankatank's lower shores are more developed. Water quality here is affected by nutrients flowing off of adjacent residential properties and increasing bank erosion from additional boat traffic.
Getting access to Dragon Run Swamp is challenging. During off-peak times, you can park at the overpass bridges at Routes 602 and 603 and canoe in between, On the Piankatank, you can access the river at Deep Point Landing off Route 606 and again at Hallieford Public Landing off Route 632. Deep Point Landing offers a fishing dock, while Hallieford accomodates car-top-only boats."
*Tidewater Low Country Almanac was funded by the Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program at the Department of Environmental Quality through grant number #NA370Z0360-01 of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management under the Coastal Zone Management Act of 1972, as amended and by the Chesapeake Bay Local A,ssistance Department. Project guidance and technical assistance were provided by the Tidewater Soil and Water Conservation District. The reprint was funded by a grant from the Chesapeake Bay Local Assistance Department with assistance from the Middle Peninsula Planning District Commission. Additional copies of the almanac are available from the Middle Peninsula Planning District Commission, P.O. Box 286, Saluda, Virginia 23149 (804) 758-2311.
The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of NOAA or any of its subagencies or DEQ.