Sited along the Presumpscot River estuary just five minutes from Portland, Maine Audubon’s headquarters features a modern environmental center and a 65-acre sanctuary with more than two miles of trails winding along a pond and through woods, meadow, orchard and salt marsh.
A resource for communities in southern and western Maine, Gilsland Farm’s environmental center offers hundreds of year-round public programs plus day camps, a Maine Audubon Nature Store, a Children’s Discovery Room and a Teacher’s Resource Center.
The variety of habitats and gentle trails at Gilsland Farm are ideal for nature study, wildlife-watching, walking, snowshoeing or cross-country skiing.Gilsland Farm’s meadows are nesting habitat for bobolinks and meadowlarks, a winter foraging spot for Canada geese and hunting grounds for red-tailed hawks and other birds of prey.Abundant woodland and shrubs attract migrating warblers, thrushes and finches, while the adjacent tidal flats support large flocks of feeding shorebirds. Mammals include weasels, red fox, deer and a variety of rodents as well as the farm’s unique population of black woodchucks.
A small pond is home to frogs and muskrat, and the sanctuary’s gardens and plantings attract scores of butterflies and dragonflies.
Gilsland Farm’s 2.5 miles of trails wind through meadows, in and out of woods, and along the shore of the Presumpscot River estuary. All trails are gentle with no steep grades.
The main trailhead is located just outside the environmental center at the end of the driveway. From it one can access all the trail spurs and junctions as well as the following principal trail loops:
This walk encircles the rolling West Meadow with its high bluffs overlooking the Presumpscot estuary and views to the Portland skyline in the distance. Follow the signs from the main trailhead through a small forested wetland and out into the field. Two observation blinds accessible by spur trails provide secluded spots from which to observe wintering waterfowl and flocks of migrant shorebirds that gather on the mudflats in June, August and September to feed on the abundant marine life exposed by the tide.
Passing through the greatest diversity of habitat on the sanctuary, the Pond Meadow Trail begins on the left at the junction below the trailhead. Pockets of mature red oak and hemlock that date back a century or more are interspersed with stands of red maple, white ash, white birch and trembling aspen. Continuing through the woods just below the apple orchard, the trail leads down to the pond where muskrat and wetland birds live and feed. From here the trail leads up to the drive and then back to the parking lot.
From the junction below the trailhead, bear right along the base of the parking lot through a grove of mature oaks and hemlocks and on into the North Meadow. A wide loop around this field offers views reminiscent of the property’s farming past. Hayed annually in late summer after the nesting bobolinks and meadowlarks have fledged their young, this meadow provides winter forage for Canada geese and hunting grounds for migrating birds of prey. The bordering spruce and shrub edges of red sumac, northern arrowood and speckled alder are good places to observe songbirds.
Gilsland Farm and the surrounding shorelands have a long history of human use. For thousands of years they were home to the Wabanakis and their ancestors. It was an ideal spot: the estuary’s vast tidal flats provided a rich source of shellfish and attracted huge concentrations of shorebirds, the sheltered waters of Casco Bay offered superb fishing and hunting for waterfowl and marine mammals, and the river provided an important travel route to the interior.
The arrival of English settlers in the 1630s signaled the end of this era and the beginning of a new one. Claiming and dividing the land into individual properties, the settlers soon cut the timber from the shorelands and established farms. Along the Presumpscot, which means “many rough places,” they erected gristmills and sawmills. In the mid-1800s, Silas Noyes bought the site of what would become Gilsland Farm and built the red wood-frame house still standing near the entrance to the sanctuary.
Gilsland Farm was acquired through the generosity of the Freeman family in a series of gifts between 1974 and 1994. Ruth Moulton Freeman’s father, David Moulton—a Portland lawyer and dedicated conservationist—bought the farm in 1911 as a summer retreat. He named the property Gilsland Farm in honor of Sir Thomas de Moulton of the Gils, a character in Sir Walter Scott’s novel “The Talisman,” and spent the next 40 years turning it into a showplace with an exceptional herd of Jersey cattle and nurseries of shrubs and flowers. One of the outstanding features of the farm was the more than 400 species of peonies stretching over seven acres. Descendents of Moulton’s peonies can be seen today in several locations on the property.
In 1976, the headquarters building was erected on the site as a prototype demonstration of energy-efficient office space heated by solar and wood heat. Besides its heating systems, the building includes many other unique features, including a composting toilet on the second floor.
By the end of the 1970s it was clear Maine Audubon had outgrown the headquarters building, and in 1981 the farmhouse at the end of the driveway was purchased. In 1987, the small building behind the headquarters was constructed as an energy demonstration center as part of an overall energy upgrade for the building.
By 1995, Maine Audubon had again outgrown its space and the environmental center was constructed using state-of-the-art “green” design and construction techniques. Staff moved in and the first programs were held in the new facility in January of 1996. The environmental center provides facilities for all the public programming at Gilsland Farm. It is also home to the Teacher’s Resource Center and Maine Audubon Nature Store. In 2005, Maine Audubon began purchasing renewable, cleaner-burning BioHeat™ heating oil to heat the buildings and biodiesel fuel to run the tractor at Gilsland Farm.
The public is invited to explore the natural and cultural history of Gilsland Farm and to enjoy the beauty of its landscapes.
The Nature Center is closed on the following holidays:
Visitors on foot are welcome on the property any time dawn to dusk.
From the north: take I-295 to exit 10 and then left on Bucknam Road. At the light turn right onto U.S. Route 1 and continue south for one mile. After the blinking light at the intersection of Routes 1 and 88, Gilsland Farm Road is on the right.
From the south: take I-295 to exit 9. Continue 1.9 miles north on U.S. Route 1 and turn left onto Gilsland Farm Road at our sign, immediately before the intersection of Routes 1 and 88.