Protecting Our Best Assets

It's what the Friends of the Chemung River Watershed does!

The rivers and streams in the Twin Tiers are among our best assets. They provide clean water, recreation, economic development and improved quality of life.

Clean water is a foundation for sustainable communities and healthy ecosystems. More than 50 percent of the Elmira area’s drinking water comes from the Chemung River. Preserving our waterways helps protect the public and environmental health of these communities.

Accessible waterways strengthen local businesses and housing values and expand educational, recreational and social opportunities. Clean and safe waterways improve community pride, hope and energy.

Our History

Picture of the Chemung RiverFor years, the Chemung River in Chemung County was considered a dirty waterway, a flood threat, and a barrier dividing communities. But the public’s attitude changed in 2008 when Chemung County residents began to see the 45-mile waterway as a natural community asset that can improve our environment, economy and quality of life.

That change in public attitude encouraged Chemung County to form a 2008 consortium of municipalities, nonprofit groups and other river-related organizations to establish a regional grass-roots river-development network. That study resulted in a River Trail Assessment & Comprehensive Master Plan for river use, development and protection. The plan was developed by Chemung County, the city of Elmira, and the towns of Chemung, Southport, Elmira and Big Flats.

Unfortunately, there was no river-development entity to make the plan a reality. That’s why the nonprofit organization, “Friends of the Chemung River Watershed (River Friends)” was incorporated in 2009. Under the direction of River Friends co-founder, Jim Pfiffer, River Friends used the plan as a road map to make the most of our waterways and to encourage the public to respect, protect and enjoy our rivers for recreation, education and for a convenient connection with nature.

River Friends is dedicated to protecting and promoting the Chemung River and its tributaries and riverside trails in Steuben and Chemung counties in New York and Bradford County in Pennsylvania. We work with our municipal partners and community residents to weave our waterways into future development. The county, the city of Elmira, and the four riverside towns agreed to help finance the start-up of River Friends. Today, the group is supported by membership, business, and municipal funds.

Now the river is the center of regional recreation including guided paddles, fishing, riverside hikes, cross-country ski trips, bird watching, nature photography and river festivals. The clean water makes for great fishing for walleye, bass, sunfish, and scores of other game fish. Many residents fish the river as a source of food, and fishing derbies draw both locals and tourists to the area.

Man in Kayak

Our waterways offer hands-on outdoor classrooms for environmental education, and a means to reconnect our residents, especially youth, to nature and our natural resources. River Friends has partnered with the Finn Academy charter school in Elmira to use the river as a hands-on environmental classroom and source of expeditionary learning. The community is discovering and accepting its role in protecting and preserving our waterways and environment.

Clean Water Within a Beautiful Backdrop

Thanks to strict enforcement of anti-pollution laws, the Chemung River Watershed has become a clean source of drinking water. Its topography features scenic tree-covered palisades, shady islands, sunny lowlands and farms dotted about a steep and lush river valley.

The Chemung Basin sits at the top of the watershed that drains into the Chesapeake Bay. The federal Environmental Protection Agency said that the Chemung River contains some of the cleanest water in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. That’s important as the river provides 50% to 60% of the drinking water to the 52,000 customers of the Elmira Water Board.

Promotion and increased use and knowledge of the river have helped the community develop a greener attitude toward our environment. Thousands of people from schools, scouts, civic groups, businesses and organizations have volunteered to help with trash cleanups, tree and flower planting, and trail and river maintenance.

Accessible and Varied Outdoor Recreation

The Chemung River is accessible through 10 boat launches, built by River Friends and its municipal partners, making it easy to take a paddle trip of a few hours to a few days. Plenty of river islands make great places for primitive camping under the stars.

River Friends helped plan and maintain the 8-mile Lackawanna Rail Trail that runs along Newtown Creek and the Chemung River from Elmira to the Town of Ashland. Long-term plans call for connecting the trail to the 13-mile-long Catharine Valley Trail that begins at Seneca Lake in Watkins Glen.

River Friends helps improve and maintains the 2.5-mile-long primitive dirt trails that runs through scenic meadows and wooded areas along the river in West Elmira.

Continued river promotion and public education have brought thousands of people to the river since 2009, to paddle the waterway and hike or bicycle along the river trails. The river has become a fun and easy way to promote and improve the community’s health.

Man Holding a Caught Fish

Our Rivers Drive Economic Growth

These rivers and streams are community drawing cards that help business and industry attract and keep employees and create jobs. The many recreational uses of our waterways not only attract tourists but help reduce the number of talented young adults leaving the area. Instead of traveling outside of the area, many people use our waterways for "staycations." They spend their time and money locally and that keeps the tax base healthy and allows local governments to further invest in and preserve waterways and related recreation.

Accessible waterways and trails strengthen local businesses and housing values and expand educational, recreational and social opportunities. Clean and safe waterways and trails bolster community pride, hope, and energy. Each year our river and trails provide consistent growth in outdoor recreation, and the economic, community health and environmental knowledge and protection that go along with it.

Our future river plans include building more trails and increased recreation and education. Counties upstream and downstream from us are developing river use plans to make the entire region a river community.

The secret to our success is simple: We are all on this paddle trip together. Let’s keep our paddles in the water and paddle in the same direction.

How You Can Support Us


One of the best ways you can support us is with your membership! However, if you would like to contribute but don't want to be a member, know that your donation stays right here in our community as we improve our rivers and provide the resources and outreach needed to make everyone a friend of the river.

Donations can be mailed to:

Chemung River Friends
111 North Main Street
Elmira, NY 14901

You can also donate with a credit card or bank account using this link.

Please send in your donation with the membership form if you'd like to join River Friends.

River Friends Swag

When you purchase our river guide, bandanna map, wine glasses, and more, you support our mission and you look cool doing it. Our guide is truly the only one you will ever need to explore the Chemung and Susquehanna rivers, and our bandanna map is affordable--only $5!--and amazing. It's a complete map of the river and boat launches in a handy, waterproof bandanna you can take with you everywhere you go! So, check out all of our River Friends Swag today!