Old Harris Road Preserve

Old Harris Road Preserve is a 14-acre parcel located off of Elmwood Road in Pownal across from the Pownal Elementary School. Owned by the Royal River Conservation Trust, this parcel is primarily managed for habitat and ecology and protects a key 0.6 mile snowmobile trail connection. The trail crosses Thoits Branch, providing fishing access. Most recently in 2021, Old Harris Road Preserve became the location of RRCT’s first highly interpretive trail. Download our Interpretive Guidebook, geared for elementary school-aged kids (but interesting for everyone), and take a walk along the family-friendly trail. Stop for a rest at the outdoor classroom we built for our neighbors at Pownal Elementary.

More Information


Trails, Trailheads, and Accessibility

The Old Harris Road Preserve, located off Elmwood Road in Pownal is marked by a small sign on Elmwood Road just west of the cemetery. Parking is available on the shoulder of Elmwood Road along the Cemetery boundary (across Elmwood from Pownal Elementary School). The trail heads south off Elmwood Road along the edge of the cemetery, briefly sharing a boundary with a small manufacturing facility before entering the woods. The 0.6-mile trail (1.2 miles round trip) is maintained for snowmobiling and is available for other uses, including hiking, Thoits Branch fishing access, hunting access, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing. While the snowmobile trail continues onto private land after 0.6 miles, many abutting landowners allow snowmobile use only. Please respect all abutters’ postings.

Accessibility of the preserve is limited by steep slopes as the trail approaches the brook soon after the outdoor classroom, and a snowmobile bridge that requires careful footwork. ATV use is prohibited due to steep erodible slopes. The trail segment to the outdoor classroom is maintained for casual walking for school children, but is not maintained for wheelchairs or other devices.

Rules, Regulations, and Hunting

  • The preserve is primarily used for an outdoor classroom, snowmobiling, and access for hunting, trapping, and fishing. Hiking, snowshoeing, and skiing are allowed. Bikes and equestrian use are not recommended due to steep banking and a snowmobile bridge that is not fit for horses. ATV use is prohibited.
  • Dogs are welcome, but on leash or voice control, with strict attention to pet waste removal. Due to deer wintering, we ask that dogs be on leash during periods of deep snow. Deer struggle to maintain energy during the winter – dogs and humans cause them to expend this precious energy.
  • Please respect various postings on private abutting land. Snowmobile trail permissions typically do not extend to other trail users.
  • Safe and responsible hunting and trapping 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.
  • Smoking is prohibited at all RRCT preserves.

RRCT & You: Updates, Alerts, and 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 – please consider filling out a Conditions Report . 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 steward@RRCT.org
  • SAFE HUNTING: Safe and responsible hunting and trapping 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. Hikers should always wear orange during all hunting seasons, on all hikes.
  • 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 of these postings aim to protect nearby farm animals from dogs or hunters.

A Place of Learning: Interpretive Nature Trail and Wabanaki History

Throughout the entire year, take a walk with our Interpretive Guidebook for Old Harris Road Preserve. This guidebook is designed for elementary-aged children (but relevant for everyone) and will help them explore the many wonders along our trail. The guidebook will continue to evolve as Pownal Elementary students add their own knowledge to the guidebook. Each section of the guidebook will have a signpost number and season marked at the top of the page. Along the trail, you will find several numbered signposts. Each number will correspond to a section in the guidebook, but pay attention to what season it is! The signposts move during the spring, summer, fall, and winter.

To facilitate deeper connections for our communities’ members, RRCT’s 2020-2025 Strategic Plan outlined a goal of creating a highly interpretive trail in each of our seven Royal River watershed towns. Starting with Old Harris Road Preserve, directly across from Pownal Elementary, was an obvious choice for a school that prides itself on having their students explore and learn about the natural world. In addition to the Interpretive Guidebook, RRCT cleaned up the existing trail and added an outdoor classroom for students and anyone else to become still and observe what is around. We also gave 10 backpacks to Pownal Elementary, containing tools like binoculars, magnifying glasses, and a water quality testing kit. During summertime, we hope to make these backpacks available to the public and will share more details once plans for renting the backpacks are finalized.

Wabanaki History:

Pownal’s original inhabitants are the Abenaki. The Abenaki are part of the Wabanaki Confederacy, who are referred to as the “people of the first light” or “people of the dawnland.” Maine is the first U.S. State to see the morning sun.

During the early 1700s when Europeans arrived in Maine, the Wabanaki created a Confederacy against the British for defense and survival. The Confederacy consisted of the Abenaki and a handful of other nations. The Wabanaki had very different concepts about trade, land, and ownership than the Europeans. The Wabanaki used to be the sole humans across the state of Maine but now, peoples indigenous to Maine control only 1% of their former land – and none near Pownal. Abenaki and Wabanaki people continue to live in Maine and other places across the United States.

The Royal River’s original name is “Wescustogo.” Wescustogo means “muddy waters” and is the name that the Abenaki used for hundreds and hundreds of years before Europeans arrived to Maine. The Royal River, and Thoits Branch, are often a muddy, chocolate color because the bottom of many stream channels in the Royal River Watershed are marine clay. Marine clay is a type of soil. It exists because some of the land in Pownal used to be part of the ocean. Places at higher elevations, like Bradbury Mountain, were islands.

Place of Peace The Wabanaki name for the area surrounding Casco Bay is Cascoak. This roughly translates as “a place of Great Blue Herons.” It is also known to the Wabanaki as “a place of peace.” Casco Bay was a place where many people would meet because of its network of rivers and islands. The Casco Bay area had many important canoe routes for the Abenaki and other traveling Wabanaki. For more information on this Wabanaki history of Casco Bay, see RRCT’s Littlejohn Island Preserve webpage.

Natural resources & modern history overview:

See the Interpretive Guidebook for more information and more detail.

Red oak, hemlock, and white pine are the most common tree species on the preserve. Several other tree species, including bigtooth aspen, American beech, red maple, sugar maple, white ash, paper birch, red spruce, and balsam fir can also be found on the preserve. Looking at historical aerials, the last timber harvest on the preserve was in the 1960s. The forest floor is also healthy with downed trees and nurse logs throughout the parcel.

The trail crosses Thoits Branch, which joins the East Branch of the Royal River within a half mile of the trail bridge. Thoits Branch supports brook trout; the East Branch is typically stocked.

In the 1940s, Pownal rejected proposals to dam Thoits Branch to create Lake Pownal to enhance the new Bradbury Mountain State Park. Old Harris Road shows on maps as recently as the 1940s, but disappears from maps by the 1960s. Old stone walls line parts of Old Harris Road on the preserve.

Stewardship & Conservation History

Royal River Conservation Trust (RRCT) purchased the 14-acre Old Harris Road Preserve in Pownal from the Sweetser-Adcock family in 2007. The purchase was made possible in part by funding from Maine DACF’s Land for Maine’s Future program. The primary purpose of the preserve is to preserve habitat, provide recreational access, and perpetuate the snowmobile trail on the property. As part of the acquisition, the Town of Pownal granted a recreational trail easement to RRCT on town land adjacent to the lot. The trail connects Elmwood Road to the lot via Old Harris Road. The acquisition was part of the larger Bradbury-Pineland initiative. This trail and lot were conceived of as part of a plan for regional motorized recreational connectivity.