York Town Square

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Scenic Yellow Breeches snakes along York County’s northern boundary

The Yellow Breeches Creek is an appealing recreational waterway. But there are dangers on even the most scenic streams. Background posts: ‘The Edison of the Cumberland Valley’, When the bridge over the Codorus moved and Picturesque bridges going way of covered predecessors.
The scenic Yellow Breeches, scene of a drowning death this week, is an often-overlooked part of York County.
The presence of the low-head dam where the drowning occurred suggests its water power was harnessed to run a mill.
For years, covered bridges have crossed it and then their metal replacements.
For years, it has served as York County’s northern boundary, giving the top angle of the triangular-shaped county a snakelike border… .

Tubing is a common pastime on the Yellow Breeches.
(The Susquehanna River on the east and Beaver Creek on part of the west are other streams that form part of all of the county’s borders.)
The stream achieved the rare status as a scenic river in the early 1990s.
The York Daily Record gave an account of the pros and cons of such status in a 1990s article. One of the pros and cons was the attraction of more users. It promised to draw those using it for recreational purposes. The downside was that more users would mean more problems.
The newspaper’s piece (12/25/92) follows:

Officially, the Susquehanna River isn’t scenic. Neither is Codorus Creek. But now, by act of the General Assembly, the Yellow Breeches Creek in northern York County is scenic.
When the bill passed in November, sponsoring Sen. John Hopper, R-Camp Hill, announced in a press release, “It means that a beautiful limestone stream, that has become famous for its trout, will be carefully protected.”
Actually, it is questionable how much extra protection scenic river status guarantees. And the attention these streams get may be at the expense of less celebrated waterways. Also, the designation may even encourage increased recreational use – and pollution.
Still, environmentalists say the program is valuable from an educational and public-relations standpoint. Creekfront property owners often fight scenic river designation because they wrongly fear it will restrict their rights.
For example, Robert M. Mumma II, who wants to build his Chilton golf-course community on the banks of the Yellow Breeches, used his political clout at first to block adoption of the bill until he was reassured it would not hurt his project.
The Department of Environmental Resources puts out a 6-page booklet explaining that the program does not interfere with private property rights. The Q&A booklet gets to the point after five pages: “What then does scenic river designation really mean?”
The answer: “Designation can mean only as much as the local governments, landowners and residents within the designated corridor want it to mean.”
“We can bill it as a cooperative conservation program,” said Marian Hrubovcak, assistant director of the Scenic Rivers System. “There are no new regulations. . . . It’s largely an education and awareness program.”
Of Pennsylvania’s 45,000 to 50,000 miles of rivers, streams and creeks, about 400 miles – 10 waterways – have been designated part of the Scenic Rivers System since the law was enacted in 1972.
Another 20 to 25 streams are considered likely to be nominated, Hrubovcak said. Few scenic rivers were named before 1982, when the General Assembly eliminated a controversial part of the law that allowed the state to condemn property along scenic rivers.
While there are no additional regulations imposed on scenic rivers, the DER is supposed to give extra attention to routine matters affecting the waterway, and state game wardens are supposed to step up enforcement of existing laws.
In addition, landowners needing technical assistance for erosion control or some related project could qualify for state help. Scenic rivers also get priority treatment. For example, if a sewage treatment plant were needed to protect the Yellow Breeches, it could get higher priority for state funding than a project needed to stop contamination of a non- scenic waterway like Codorus Creek.
Local municipalities are encouraged to consider the river’s enhanced status when drawing up comprehensive plans, Hrubovcak said. But townships and boroughs do not get any powers under the program that they do not have already.
“This just pulls everyone together,” she said.
Before the Legislature acts, DER conducts a scenic survey, a process that can take years. It includes an inventory of the river’s features, including anything of scientific, historic or cultural importance. The study also includes public hearings. Guidelines for protecting the waterway are drafted.
“These guidelines are suggestions only,” the DER booklet explains. “They are not, nor will they become state restrictions for private land management.”
Farmers along the river might encounter tougher enforcement of existing runoff and irrigation regulations. On public lands, new restrictions may be imposed on snowmobiling, trailbike riding and other motorized activities. All in all, the program might seem toothless to some.
“I wouldn’t characterize it that way,” said Jeff Schmidt, lobbyist for the Sierra Club, one of the groups that worked to win the designation for the Yellow Breeches. Schmidt added, “A lot of people get worried that it’s basically Big Brother coming in, telling what you shall and shall not do, and that’s not the case with the Scenic Rivers program.”
One problem is that scenic river status can lead to increased use of the waterway. For example, white-water rafting companies promote the status of some state scenic rivers in northeastern Pennsylvania to attract more clients. That does not bother Schmidt.
“One of our attitudes is, if people are taught to use a river wisely, to recreate in it wisely, they can become some of its stronger defenders,” he said.
So when will York’s rusty, stinky Codorus get its day?
Alas, Hrubovcak confirmed, “That one is not on our list in any category.”