Gilsland Farm Audubon Center
Situated along the Presumpscot River estuary just five minutes from Portland, Maine Audubon’s headquarters features a modern environmental education center and a 65-acre sanctuary with more than two miles of trails winding along a pond and through forest, meadow, orchard, and salt marsh.
Gilsland Farm is an invaluable resource for communities and families, hosting hundreds of year-round public programs, plus day camps, the Maine Audubon Nature Store, and our Children’s Discovery Room and Teacher’s Resource Center. Visitors can walk our trails, observe wildlife from the observation blinds, explore the pond, or visit our apple orchard and peony garden.
There is always something fascinating happening at Gilsland Farm. Our Education Center frequently hosts public events and is available to rent for weddings, meetings, and other functions. Nature-themed art exhibits are regularly on display in the Tiernan Gallery. Plots in our community garden are cultivated by local neighbors who also volunteer their time to Maine Audubon throughout the year.
360° Aerial Tour
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 Education Center at the end of the driveway. From there, one can access all the trail spurs and junctions as well as the principal trail loops.
West Meadow Trail (0.7 miles): 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.
Pond Meadow Trail (0.6 miles): 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.
North Meadow Trail (1.2 miles): 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 arrowwood, and speckled alder are good places to observe songbirds.
Many visitors also enjoy exploring our historic apple orchard. Anytime after our Apple Day festival (typically the first Saturday in October), you are welcome to pick apples from the ground. For your own safety and the healthy of our very old apple trees, please do not climb in the trees.
Wildlife & Habitat
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 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 distant relative, 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. Descendants of Moulton’s peonies can be seen today in several locations on the property.
In 1976, the headquarters building was erected 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 and part of an overall energy upgrade for the building.
By 1995, Maine Audubon had again outgrown its space and the environmental education center was constructed using then-state-of-the-art “green” design and construction techniques. The education center provides facilities for the majority of 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 subsequent installation of seven solar arrays and an electric vehicle charging station has continued Maine Audubon’s commitment to renewable and sustainable energy.
Directions & Contact
20 Gilsland Farm Road
Falmouth, Maine 04105
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.
Hours & Holidays
Visitor Center Hours:
- Monday–Friday: 9 am–4 pm
- Saturday: 10 am–4 pm
- Sunday: 12–4 pm
- Please note, the Visitor Center and Nature Store will be closed from December 24 through January 1, reopening on Wednesday, January 2.
Nature Store Hours:
- Monday–Friday: 10 am–4 pm
- Saturday: 10 am–4 pm
- Sunday: 12–4 pm
Education Center and the Nature Store are open:
- Day after Thanksgiving
Education Center and the Nature Store are closed:
- New Year’s Day
- Martin Luther King Jr. Day
- President’s Day
- Easter Sunday
- Memorial Day
- Independence Day
- Labor Day
- Columbus Day
- Thanksgiving Day
- Christmas Eve through New Year’s Day