New! We are working with the Maine Bureau of Parks & Lands and the Trust for Public Land to expand and consolidate Big Falls and Norumbega Trails into a new Talking Brook Public Land destination. Scroll below to the “Planned Expansion” tab of this page for more information.
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 edges of the stream. Fiddleheads grow in spring, near the bench at the beginning of the trail. Autumn brings 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. Abutting private trails (Norumbega) are open for use as well.
Planned Expansion of Big Falls Preserve to become Talking Brook Public Land: new parking, new trails, requested input.
Big Falls Preserve was created in December 2018 by a donation of land from Michael & Julie Fralich to the Royal River Conservation Trust. In 2023, we plan a significant expansion, from 40 acres to nearly 200 acres, to become Talking Brook Public Land, following the conservation of what is now Norumbega Trails.
In December 2021 the State of Maine Bureau of Parks & Lands (BPL), Trust for Public Land, Royal River Conservation Trust (RRCT), and the Fralich family outlined plans to expand and consolidate Big Falls Preserve and Norumbega Trails to become the new 193-acre Talking Brook Public Land. Here are the fact sheets and maps presented to the New Gloucester Select Board in 2021. Several press articles in 2022 publicized the new Talking Brook project due to Land for Maine’s Future (LMF) funding awards, and Select Board votes in support. Additional LMF notice and process will invite public input in 2022 and 2023.
The new Talking Brook Public Land will be owned by BPL and managed cooperatively on a day-to-day basis by RRCT. Key decisions will all be made by BPL including through formal state management planning processes, with coordinated early efforts by BPL and RRCT to address any issues. BPL funding is especially helpful for parking lot development and major trail rehabilitation.
More recent than the 2021 fact sheets and maps, new project details create new opportunities specifically regarding new parking. Below are discussions of current plans (September 2022) that we believe are of interest to neighbors and the public. Attend one of our public sessions, or reach out to us directly at info@RRCT.org especially if you are unable to make one of the public sessions. RRCT will share input with BPL at all points.
There are two planned parking areas for trail users:
- EXISTING PARKING AREA: The existing parking area on the road shoulders of Woodman Road is insufficient to meet the full parking needs of the proposed Talking Brook Public Land. It needs to be improved to make it safer and more orderly for a small number of cars. The existing parking area (road shoulder) is owned by the Town of New Gloucester and maintained entirely at the expense of RRCT and neighbors. RRCT plans to offer to work with the Town of New Gloucester and neighbors to improve this small parking area and provide road shoulder signage to discourage unsafe parking too close to the intersection of Woodman Road and Ayer Road.
- NEW PARKING AREA CLOSER TO MEADOW LANE: Norumbega Cidery has agreed to transfer to BPL one-half acre of land near the corner of Woodman Road & Meadow Lane (with access by existing Norumbega Cidery driveway off Woodman Road), for a new parking lot. This engineering sketch (click here) shows what the parking lot might look like. Importantly, while the sketch shows that the lot could accommodate 28 or more spaces, no one proposes construction of 28 spaces at the beginning of the project, until there is a proven need. Hikers would proceed from this parking area down Woodman Road to reach hiking trails further along Woodman Road. According to a memo from the Town Planner attached here, the parking lot does not require Planning Board review.
Trail vision, use, rehabilitation, relocation, and closure:
We are working on a plan to improve and realign trails on what is today “Norumbega Trails” and also what is today “Big Falls Preserve” as the new “Talking Brook Public Land.” This trail work may take a few years.
The emerging vision (for comment) is that trails would become somewhat similar to what exists today on the Big Falls Preserve. The vision is for relatively primitive, relatively rustic trails that provide an experience of relative solitude. We are inclined to remove various short trail spurs and short trail segments, to reduce the total number of trails on Norumbega Trails. We plan to retain the basic routes and destinations of the current trails. We’ll move some Norumbega Trails further from stream banks to enhance stream habitat and water quality. There is currently no plan for trail development in the woods that have had no trails in recent years; those longer more remote trails may be proposed in future years.
We are not currently considering investments in trail design for ADA-standards for wheelchairs or for mountain bikes. The poor soils and rugged topography would make such construction very expensive, and would be beyond the volunteer assets that will be used for most trail construction.
A significant number of new bridges and new boardwalks or bog bridges will be necessary on what is today “Norumbega Trails” to support simple pedestrian use, addressing stream crossings and muddy areas. Trails and bridges on abutting land (land that will remain private) will be closed.
We are scoping a significant re-route and reconstruction of the trailhead and spur off of Woodman Road extension that follows the east side of the Stream Loop Trail along the area known as Little Falls. Use of this steep trail today creates significant erosion of the stream bank, and the trail includes slopes and gullies that are difficult for hiking and would not be sustainable with the expected increases in hiking.
Trails on what is today the Big Falls Preserve will remain largely the same, though we will continue to move some trail segments further away from Meadow Brook banks, especially noting winter ice on slopes near the brook.
Hunting & Trapping: RRCT and BPL welcome and support safe and legal hunting and trapping on many of our properties, with limitations as posted and as provided by Maine law. BPL regulations prohibit hunting within 300 feet of marked trails on BPL land (Talking Brook and Big Falls will become BPL land after closing in 2023). After closing in 2023, safe and legal hunting locations will exist on Talking Brook Public Land beyond these trail zones.
Trails, Trailheads, and Accessibility
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 blue-blazed 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! 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 and Stream Loop 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 partially depicted on RRCT’s Big Falls Maps, and with some on-site signage.
Rules and Regulations and Hunting
- The preserve trails are open for hiking, snowshoeing, and back-country skiing. Slopes and ledges will be a challenge for most skiers.
- No bikes on trails, 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. DOGS ON LEASH NEAR PARKING LOT AND NEAR RESIDENCES.
- 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. DOGS ON LEASH NEAR RESIDENCES.
- 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: Updates, Alerts & Cautions
- 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. DOGS ON LEASH NEAR RESIDENCES AND PARKING LOT.
- 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.
Natural Resources, Habitat, and Historic Interpretation
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 including the 1947 Plymouth and the 19th century stone bridge.
Located on the town/city line on the edge of abandoned Woodman Road is an history granite boundary monument, with a small interpretive kiosk explaining the historic boundary of New Gloucester and Danville (now Auburn).
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.
Big Falls Preserve Narrative: written by former owner, Michael Fralich
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.
The Official Naming of Talking Brook (with Michael Fralich narrative)
“I could hear someone laughing and talking during the night only to realize that it was only the brook babbling as it played over its rocky bed. It was then that we gave the stream the name Talking Brook.”– Michael Fralich, a landowner with Talking Brook running through his and his wife Julie’s land.
Since 1974, Julie and Michael Fralich have fondly known the stream running through their backyard as Talking Brook. Their generosity with public trails running along the stream and in their woods has given many others a close connection to the moving water they know so well. For decades though, state and federal maps depicted it as an unnamed stream flowing into Meadow Brook, downstream from Big Falls.
In 2021, RRCT submitted a proposal requesting that the unnamed stream be officially named Talking Brook to the US Board on Geographic Names. Because the stream runs 2.2 miles through Androscoggin and then Cumberland County, RRCT sought and received unanimous support from the New Gloucester Select Board, Auburn City Council, Cumberland County Commissioners, and Androscoggin County Commissioners. With voiced local support, the stream was officially named Talking Brook by the US Board on Geographic Names on June 10th, 2021.
Below is a short essay Michael Fralich shared as part of the naming proposal.
In 1974, when I was twenty-three years old and recently married, I came to look at a piece of property in a town I knew very little about. My new wife and I both grew up in Maine outside of Portland. We wanted to settle near our families and begin a family of our own. Two local men, Donald Chandler and MS Hancock, had a large parcel in New Gloucester on the corner of Woodman Road and Meadow Lane for sale. The parcel was one hundred and sixty acres of mixed woodlands with an unnamed stream running through it. We purchased the land and not yet ready to begin our residency, pitched a small canvas dwelling next to the stream.
I had been an outdoors-man all my life and this simple dwelling situated in a hemlock grove next to a stream suited me perfectly. We were living in Boston at the time and once the canvas dwelling was up and provisioned, we would come to New Gloucester to stay, sometimes for a weekend, sometimes for longer. We began to explore the woods and envision living there. After our rambles, we were always comforted by the sight of our dwelling tucked under an ancient yellow birch next to the stream. As we lay in our sleeping bags at night, I would swear that I could hear someone laughing and talking during the night only to realize that it was only the brook babbling as it played over its rocky bed. It was then that we gave the stream the name Talking Brook.
In the forty-six years since that humble beginning, we have built a home here, raised our family, created seven miles of trails on the land we now call Norumbega as a nod to the history of our state and the first peoples who were here long before us. Talking Brook has been the constant feature that has always not only brought us comfort with its varying voice but also a constant reminder with those voices that we are connected here to something elemental to our existence, a flowing energy that although slowed by the dry season, never stops in its need to bring water out of these woods and eventually to the sea.
When our children were young, we would go to the brook and bob around in the big pool below one of the big drops, sharing the water with the creatures who lived there. Later on, I would wander up the stream bed and pick up rocks and build cairns that would be washed away in the spring flows. During the spring flows, we can hear the rushing voice of the brook from our bedroom, reminding us of the that time long ago when we were young and just beginning our journey here. The brook is that constant that always brings us back to where we began and reminds us that our stewardship of these woods is our legacy that will carry on long after we are gone and the voice of the brook falls on other ears.