Thayer Brook Preserve

The 147-acre Thayer Brook Preserve in Gray is owned and managed by Royal River Conservation Trust. The Preserve abuts Libby Hill Forest trails and contains sections of Thayer Brook and a large 60-acre beaver flowage with exceptional bird & wildlife values. The Preserve supports a short segment of a regional snowmobile and ATV trail and existing trails integrated with Libby Hill Forest. New trails for hiking and biking are planned.

Acquired in March 2022, the Preserve does not yet have fully developed trails, signs, and trail-head parking. Explore as-it-is, or check back for more information after planned summer 2022 work.

Dogs on leash (noting the large numbers of deer and wildfowl.) No hunting or trapping, noting state statutes governing the state wildlife sanctuary.

More Information

Trails, Trailheads and Accessibility

MOST TRAILS NOT YET BUILT: This preserve was created in late March 2022. Please respect that trails and signage will be works-in-progress during 2022 and 2023. See “Maps” above for most-recent maps showing existing trails.

Certain trails for biking, running, and and hiking are opened and maintained as part of the Libby Hill Forest trails network. Please abide by rules and regulations set forth by Libby Hill Forest Trails. Plan to park near the Gray-New Gloucester schools to access those trails.

The existing snowmobile-ATV trail provides access from 92 Ramsdell Road. The trail and its bridges have some ruts and safety issues, pending improvements. Parking lot development is planned in late 2022.

What’s next: Consultation with neighbors, town, clubs

RRCT powerpoint for Gray Town Council April 19 2022

RRCT memorandum to Gray Town Council April 11 2022 (Council packet for April 19)

In April 2022 RRCT began its preserve creation process. This includes meetings with local landowners, ATV club, snowmobile club, town officials, trail users, abutters, and the citizens of Gray to determine the best usage of the property that will align with the RRCT Conservation Principles. A short-term and long-term RRCT land management plan will be created to act as a blueprint for managing the property. The preserve will be an active partner with Libby Hill Trails in coordinating projects that impact both systems. New trails will be created over the next year to complement and connect to Libby Hill Trails.

In April and May in addition to public meetings with the Town Council we hosted four well-publicized property tours with neighbors and local groups.

RRCT has created a Preserve Outreach Group to gather local input and resources to get the preserve created. This group will be spending about a year on this project to gather public input, work on trail design, help develop the management plans, and learn about land preservation principles. Steve
McPike will be heading this group. If you would like to get involved with this group, Steve is looking for more members. Please contact him at SteveMcPike (at) Gmail (dot) com if you have an interest in getting involved at any level or any questions on the new preserve. Steve is also available to speak to local groups on the new preserve and RRCT conservation plan.

RRCT’s planned new parking lot at 92 Ramsdell Road later in 2022 will require town permits. Stay tuned!

You can keep up on news and new trails by joining the RRCT email list and following RRCT on Facebook.

RRCT will have future sessions with RRCT Trail Crew and RRCT’s Habitat Bunch to continue to get to know the property and its neighbors better. Join us! Get involved!

Rules, Regulations and Hunting

  • There is no hunting or trapping on this property, due to the neighborhood’s designation by the Maine Legislature as a wildlife sanctuary (“the Gray Game Sanctuary”). See 12 MRSA 12706 et seq.
  • ATV and snowmobile usage is welcome on one designated trail.
  • Parking is not yet built or developed. Parking is available on the road shoulders of Ramsdell Road.
  • Preserve trails (many not yet built or signed) are open for biking, hiking, snowshoeing, and back-country skiing.
  • Please be judicious with trail activities during spring thaw and excessively wet or saturated periods. Please help us avoid trail closures due to trail damage or rutting.
  • Dogs are welcome on RRCT’s Thayer Brook Preserve but must be leashed, due to wildlife sensitivities unique to this parcel. More information on the pet policy for the adjacent Libby Hill Forest trail network can be found here.
  • Please respect various postings on private abutting land.
  • Smoking is prohibited at all RRCT preserves.

RRCT & You: Updates, Alerts and Cautions

MOST TRAILS NOT YET BUILT: This preserve was created in late March 2022. Please respect that trails and signage are a work in progress during 2022 and 2023.

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.

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. Thayer Brook Preserve has exceptionally large populations of white-tail deer and water fowl. The adjacent trail system requires leashes due to heavily used trail systems. RRCT requires that dogs be leashed.

NEIGHBORS’ POSTINGS: Please respect various postings on private abutting land.

Conservation History

In March 2022, Royal River Conservation Trust acquired this property from members of the Durgin and Rogers families — all descendants of Evelyn “Binnie” Morrill Durgin. The Morrill family assembled the ownership now owned by RRCT in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1960s. RRCT acquired the parcels using bridge financing from an anonymous family and transactional funding from the Casco Bay Estuary Partnership. RRCT is working during 2022 to secure conservation funding to repay the bridge financing, from sources including the Land for Maine’s Future program and the Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund.

Thayer Brook Preserve is within the Libby Hill unfragmented habitat block, designated as a wildlife sanctuary by the Maine legislature but largely privately owned. This unfragmented habitat block (forest) is the 5th largest in Greater Portland (an artificial boundary including 18 municipalities in and around Portland). The unfragmented habitat block is 2,580 acres. Despite its size, there is currently little conservation land in the Libby Hill habitat block. Thayer Brook Preserve, Libby Hill Forest, and one homeowner’s association open space parcel are the only protected lands in the habitat block.

In 2020 and 2022, the Gray Comprehensive Plan and Open Space Plan designated this area a “critical rural area,” supporting the concept of future conservation.

Land conservation in Gray is a strategic priority for Royal River Conservation Trust, Presumpscot Regional Land Trust, Maine Farmland Trust, and the Town of Gray. For more information on RRCT’s approach and rationale for land conservation in Gray, see RRCT’s 2022 Conservation Plan.

History & Historic Interpretation

Abenaki: Prior to colonization of Maine by the British and the French, the land currently known as the Thayer Brook Preserve was occupied and stewarded by the Abenaki, one of the sovereign nations forming the Wabanaki Confederacy. This Maine Historical Society website celebrates the heritage and modern strength of the Wabanaki.

New Boston & Gray: Beginning in 1735, British (Massachusetts) land speculators began laying claim to the land that is now Gray, calling it New Boston. Thayer Brook Preserve flows to the Presumpscot River; the British had earlier begun damming the Presumpscot, destroying fish habitat and passage. In 1734, Wabanaki Chief Polin continued a long-standing high profile dispute with the Governor of Massachusetts regarding the dams, famously paddling to Boston in 1739 with pomp. The Maine Historical Society site (link above) narrates this failed diplomatic effort.

Goff’s Mill Pond (water wheel): An 18th or early 19th Century very primitive stone boulder dam (breached) crosses Thayer Brook very near the snowmobile trail crossing of the brook. The stone dam is parallel to the beaver dams which form the upstream marsh and ponds. Deeds refer the the pond as “Goff’s Mill Pond.” Members of the Goff family settled Ramsdell Road in the eighteenth century. William Goff (1759-1777) died at age 18 in the American Revolution at Germantown, after fighting at Lexington and Bunker Hill.

We don’t know what generation of Goffs built the dam, or whether they settled the area before WIlliam. This article in the Press Herald describes some of the history of dams in the area, including the profound re-shaping of the Little Sebago outlet. Dams were used by the earliest settlers in the 1700s. The American Revolution began an era of development of dams and mills. The Great Freshet in 1814 washed out many dams. We’ve found no evidence of a mill building or cellar hole near the dam that created Goff’s Mill Pond.

In 2022, Mrs. Rogers recalls that her family referred to the old dam as the “water wheel” site, presumably providing power for a small sawmill. The water wheel was affixed to cut stones immediately below the field stone dam.

Morrill and Durgin families: In 2022, RRCT acquired the land from the heirs of Evelyn Morrill Durgin (1920 to 2007). The Morrill family assembled its ownership of what is now Thayer Brook Preserve between the 1930s and the 1960s.

Natural Resources & Habitat

Thayer Brook drains to the Pleasant River which joins the Presumpscot River in Windham before heading to Casco Bay. Libby Hill forms the height of land that separates the Presumpscot and Royal River watersheds; the Gray-New Gloucester school campuses drain to the Royal River. Upstream from the Preserve, the Thayer Brook watershed is entirely developed and surrounded by more than 2000 aces of as-yet undeveloped (but not yet conserved) forests, creating one of the largest habitat areas in greater Portland.

Along with undeveloped nearby streams and forests, Thayer Brook Preserve is part of a state-designated wildlife sanctuary (scores of privately owned parcels with a state designation) which prohibits hunting and trapping. As a result, the Preserve has exceptionally large populations of white-tailed deer and beavers. The Preserve is dominated by a 60-acre beaver marsh formed by more than six beaver dams, hosting enormous beaver lodges and large populations of birds.

Beyond the marsh, most of the acreage of the preserve is dominated by “glacial erratics.” Glacial erratics are enormous boulders left behind as glaciers melted more than 10,000 years ago. The challenging rocky terrain is one reason the Preserve has seen relatively little farming and no residential development over recent centuries.

On the road shoulders of Ramsdell Road, cut in half by Ramdsdell Road, there’s a small section of bog which support beautiful Northern or Purple Pitcher Plants (Sarracenia purpurea) visible from the pavement.