Big Falls Preserve is a 40-acre preserve at the northern-most end of Woodman Road in New Gloucester, straddling the New Gloucester town line and Auburn city line. This preserve features a scenic waterfall at the mouth of a small wading pool creating a destination for hikers on a 1.5 mile loop trail. The preserve’s ecology is unique due to glacial erratics (boulders) and ledges that create a bridge of land between two very large wetland areas, the marshes of the Intervale, and the beaver ponds of upper Meadow Brook. Mature mixed forests including hemlock, pine, and beech, with no harvest for more than 50 years provide a respite with lush shade. In winter otter slides dominate the landscape up and down the edges of the stream. Fiddleheads grow in Spring, near the bench at the beginning of the trail and Autumn bring a deep crimson to the woods and shady stream banks along with Cardinal flowers. Evidence of white tail deer, coyotes, foxes and pileated woodpeckers come with all seasons. Look for the debris at the base of trees, where the woodpeckers have been feeding and enjoy this quiet preserve. There are abutting private trails that are open for use as well. Big Falls Preserve was recently featured in Down East Magazine September Issue: My Favorite Place Abdi Nor Iftin,
Big Falls Preserve trail map: Downloadable PDF
Big Falls Preserve regional context: Downloadable PDF
Abutting-connecting Norumbega Chapel (Cidery and Yurts) hiking trails (Maine Trail Finder).
Parking is available on the right-hand shoulder of Woodman Road, at the northern end of Woodman Road in New Gloucester. Please respect neighbors parking signs: “no parking beyond this point.” GPS Address for parking and trailhead: 381 Woodman Road, New Gloucester.
The 1.5 mile primitive loop trail follows the discontinued end of Woodman Road (today a woods road and driveway) before turning right into the woods, following the stream, and looping back onto the woods road to return to the parking area.
The trail is in good shape! In spring or after rains the woods road has some puddles that require jumping. Going out and back along the stream might be more enjoyable than using the woods road, but the woods road loop is delightful too.
Private Norumbega Chapel trails — private but open to the public — linked to Norumbega Cidery & Yurts leave the woods road on the LEFT, with variable signage and variable maintenance. (RRCT public trails leave the woods road on the RIGHT.) Please respect all signs and postings by all abutters. The Norumbega trails are mapped and promoted on Maine Trail Finder, and on RRCT’s Big Falls Maps, and with on-site signage.
- The preserve trails are open for hiking, snowshoeing, and back-country skiing. Slopes and ledges will be a challenge for most skiers. No bikes, please.
- The woods road (abandoned section of Woodman Road and part of the trail) hosts a public easement, continuing beyond RRCT ownership into marshy areas. Maintained a bit by the pipeline company (a pipeline runs underneath through the woods), and with washouts and other risks, this section of road is sometimes legally used by by hunters with trucks with very high clearance. Washouts and ruts make the road inappropriate for most vehicular use.
- Dogs are welcome, but on leash or voice control, with strict attention to pet waste removal.
- Safe and responsible hunting on the preserve is encouraged. We promote safe hunting experiences and protect deer by educating users of the hiking trail and their dogs to be respectful of hunters and deer during season, including winter deer yard season. As a courtesy, please call RRCT to inform us if you plan any trapping on the parcel. Hikers should always wear orange during all hunting seasons, on all hikes.
- Please respect various postings on private abutting land.
- Tenting and camping is allowed, but with permission, and well-away from trail heads or neighbors. There are no privies on this preserve. Give us a call, and plan on strict adherence to “leave no trace” principles.
- Smoking is prohibited at all RRCT preserves.
- RRCT & You: RRCT relies heavily on volunteers and help from trail users like you. You may know more recent information about trail and preserve conditions than we do. We invite you to be a thoughtful steward by acting as a respectful visitor, adhering to posted rules, and following Leave No Trace practices. RRCT’s small staff and volunteer Trail Crew is able to inspect and maintain RRCT preserves infrequently; we ask you to report to us any issues you observe that you cannot address yourself, and especially to update us on any safety or public safety issues. Please help us on your visits with litter, pet waste, and minor trail issues. We also invite any information on needed or suggested updates to this webpage. Reach out in any way, most simply with an email to info@RRCT.org.
- SLIPPERY ROCKS AT WATERFALL: The waterfall is tempting to explore off-trail. There are very slippery rocks in the stream and falls. Please be very careful traversing the rocks that form the falls.
- RESPONSIBLE PET OWNERSHIP: Our preserves provide valuable access for pets and pet owners. We are always concerned by pet waste left behind, and by dogs not controlled by their owners. Please help us create a culture of respect and responsibility.
- NEIGHBORS’ POSTINGS: Please respect various postings on private abutting land; many such postings aim to protect nearby farm animals or pets from dogs or hunters.
RRCT is the owner and manager of the preserve, donated by the Fralich family in December of 2018. Transactional and stewardship funding came from the Margaret E. Burnham Charitable Trust, RRCT’s Land Acquisition Reserve Fund, and other sources. RRCT upgraded the trails in 2019 to enhance safe public access, while respecting the natural resources of the preserve.
Here’s a Lewiston Sun Journal article from January 8, 2019, when we unveiled the preserve to the public at a New Gloucester Board of Selectmen’s meeting.
Most recently, Big Falls Preserve showed up in the September 2020 issue of Downeast Magazine: My Favorite Place Abdi Nor Iftin, A great perspective on Maine’s outdoors.
This preserve is managed to protect sensitive habitats and historic features, and will be made available as a community educational resource. RRCT plans to maintain the old vehicle for historic interpretation. See Michael Fralich’s narrative, next tab, for a rich history of many features of the preserve.
Habitat: Upstream from Big Falls Preserve is the upper Meadow Brook watershed, which is nearly entirely undeveloped. Downstream of the preserve are both the Irving Thurston Wildlife Marsh (Maine Department of Fish and Wildlife) and RRCT’s Intervale Preserve at the confluence with the Royal River. For decades Big Falls was managed for trails and traditional public access, beloved by neighbors in private ownership. Now RRCT owns and manages the parcel.
Meadow Brook is on the edge of the Intervale neighborhood and vast wetlands– the floodplains and farms of the Royal River in a valley between glacial hills. The Intervale ranks among the richest habitat and ecology areas in the Royal River watershed according to the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife and the Beginning With Habitat Program. With a rich sporting tradition and iconic scenic farming landscapes, the area supports migratory shore birds, waterfowl, game birds and wading bird habitat.
The Nature Conservancy maps the area as having above average resilience in the face of climate change. For this reason RRCT has formally and strategically prioritized the Intervale and the surrounding areas for conservation.
“We purchased the parcel that includes the Big Falls Preserve from Fred Huntress in the 1980’s. Fred is a real estate agent/surveyor/forester. He brokered our original purchase of one hundred and sixty acres adjacent to this parcel in 1975. I can remember the day that Fred called me with the intriguing question, “Do want to buy the waterfall?” He had recently logged this parcel and was eager to reap an even bigger return on his investment. We eagerly agreed.
We had known about Big Falls for years. In the spring before we owned this land and had established a trail to it, we would walk up Woodman Road and follow the sound of the cascading water through the woods to get to it. It has been a locally known destination for generations of New Gloucester residents. My good friend and fifth generation New Gloucester resident, Phil Blake, has told me that people would come for picnics at the falls on Meadow Brook, stopping to fill up their water jugs at a spring on Woodman Road on their way to the falls.
The Big Falls Preserve was originally two parcels. One parcel encompassed the falls and the pond above it. The other parcel, that now is the access trail to the preserve, was originally owned by Reginald Parent. Reginald was a mill worker who lived in Lewiston. He built a hunting cabin in the 1950’s on the site directly across from where the Big Falls Trail departs Woodman Road on the right. The cabin is gone now. We had it burned down in the 1990’s fearing that it was a danger to those who might wander in out of curiosity and fall through a rotten floorboard and injure themselves.
Reg and his family would drive from Lewiston on the weekends to hunt and cut firewood on this land. There are two features that can still be seen associated with Reg’s ownership on the trail to the falls. As one leaves Woodman road to head to Meadow Brook, there is a tumbledown cabin that nature is trying to reclaim (NOTE: RRCT removed this cabin in 2019). This was a loggers cabin that Reg built for the French-Canadian woodcutters he hired in the 1940’s to cut timber in the winter on his land.
The loggers would live in this small cabin all winter, logging the surrounding forest in partnership with a team of draft horses. According to Reg, the horses were so well trained that at the end of the work day, the loggers would unhitch the team and they would walk down Woodman Road unaccompanied to their barn at the Barrow’s Farm opposite the marsh, now designated as the Fred Thurston Wildlife Marsh. When we purchased this parcel from Reg, the cabin was still intact. One could see the spare kitchen area and the sleeping platforms built into the cabin walls.
Another feature on the trail is Reg’s 1947 Plymouth. I asked Reg about this car once, assuming that it had been a family vehicle that he had abandoned after it died. I was wrong. Reg explained that he had a similar car that was in active service for his family’s transportation needs. He bought this second car, drove it into the spot where it still rests to use as a source of parts for his other vehicle. It was his personal auto parts store.
As one descends down to the banks of Meadow Brook, the observant hiker will notice a strand of barbed wire still attached to a tree by the edge of the brook. This is a reminder of this land’s agricultural past. All of this land was pasture for cows and sheep in the period before WW II. The wire indicates that the animals were pastured on the far side of Meadow Brook. They could go down to the brook to drink but could go no further than the bank that is closest to the trail.
As one climbs up from the brook to an overlook above the water and then down the rise, the hiker will then encounter a stone wall that runs perpendicular to the water. This feature dates back to the time before the civil war when the forests were cut to make way for sheep to feed the booming wool industry in the region. The vestiges of first water-powered woolen mill in the United States can still be seen on Collyer Brook in Gray at Mayall Mills State Historic Site. There are miles of these sheep walls crisscrossing the land in this area. When one encounters these walls it is interesting to not only contemplate what this area must have looked like devoid of trees but also the amount of physical labor that went into the building of them.
After crossing the top of this small plateau, you might choose to go off-trail and descend to come close to the banks of the brook. On the opposite bank can be seen the ruins of Al Willard’s cabin. Al bought the land on the far side of the brook in the early 1970’s. Rather than build his own cabin from scratch, Al purchased an unused chicken coop from a farmer in the Lower Village of New Gloucester. At the time, Al owned a WW II 4×4 Dodge Power Wagon that had been converted to an ambulance by the army during the war. He dragged the structure from the farmer’s field, down Intervale Road, Woodman Road and then Ayer Road (at the time just a rough single track trail) and onto his land over the even rougher woods road he had hacked out on his homestead. He lived there as a bachelor, then as a married man. But when his wife Nancy had their first child, she insisted on better quarters. Al abandoned the cabin and built a larger structure up away from the brook.
The trail continues upstream, and today only the most observant hiker can see the remains of an old 19th century stone bridge on the brook right in the middle of a marsh that the trail avoids. Farmers built this structure to get their wagons over the brook as they must have had a homestead, long gone, on the other side. Again, the amount of work and ingenuity that went into building this bridge and accompanying road boggles my mind. (NOTE: The old bridge is roughly the location of the Auburn-New Gloucester town line.) It is along this stretch of the brook that cardinal flowers can been seen blooming in August. Their bright red flowers are hard to miss.
If the hiker is traversing this trail in spring, the sound of the falls becomes evident at this point in their trek. The stream bed here is now littered with boulders of various sizes, creating barriers that the water must conquer on its flow downstream. There is a rock formation in this section of the trail that I dubbed (its shape resembles the head of a snake) “Snake Head” that makes for a great viewing point to see Big Falls just ahead. Continuing on, there is another overlook right opposite the falls that is a wonderful place to sit and take in the thundering crash of the water in spring.
The pond above the falls has been home to otters and beaver in the past. A friend picked up a moose antler drop in this area indicating that our largest member of the deer family has visited this site in the past. In winter I have played on the frozen surface of the pond. In warmer months I have gone for a swim here but beware, there are beautifully colored leaches that inhabit this pond. I have never had one attach to me but I am always mindful of their presence when I swim here.
Meadow Brook becomes quieter along the next stretch of trail but no less beautiful. There are rock formations on the opposite bank further along that have always captivated me as I pass them. It is at this point that the trail takes a sharp left to head the hiker back to Woodman Road. The trail passes through a stand of young hardwoods, the result of beaver activity some years back as they cleared this area for food and dam making materials. Past this stand, the trail drops down onto Woodman Road.
The hiker takes a left here to return to the trail-head and parking area. This section of Woodman Road was, up until the 1970’s, still used by drivers on their way to Auburn. The stone bridge is gone now. In order to make one’s way back to a paved road, a stream must be crossed. I had a horse once who was game enough to cross the deep water and take me up the other side. He is gone now and I have no desire to try that trick again. I have taken my mountain bike to the bridge, waded across and continued onto the road on the other side.