NEW GLOUCESTER — A New Gloucester couple has donated 40 acres to the Royal River Conservation Trust to establish a trail system on the New Gloucester-Auburn line.

The donation by Michael and Julie Fralich establishes a permanent owner for a scenic, waterfall-laden, 1½-mile hiking loop along Meadow Brook in the Royal River watershed.

The donation was presented Monday night to the New Gloucester Board of Selectman.

The trail, starting on Upper Woodman Road, drops down along the banks of Meadow Brook and rises up to a set of water falls, known as “Big Falls,” continuing to a wooded pond at the top of the falls. The trail then loops back further along Upper Woodman Road in Auburn.

The land, comprising 25 acres in Auburn and 15 acres in New Gloucester,  has long been a trail utilized by hikers, dog walkers, horseback riders and hunters. 

“Generations have come to enjoy this place, and now, under the stewardship of  Royal River Trust, it will be managed in perpetuity and open to all,” Fralich told selectmen.

Steve Libby, chairman of the Board of Selectman, was familiar with the land.

“I caught a native trout there in the 1970s,” he said.

Michael and Julie Fralich bought the Auburn land in 1988 and the New Gloucester land in 1995.

According to a letter sent to the New Gloucester Board of Selectmen, the Fraliches have “always maintained trails to the Big Falls,” but, with the donation, the “land will continue to be open and available for the public to enjoy for years to come.”

At Monday night’s meeting, Alan Stearns, executive director of the Royal River Conservation Trust, unveiled the project. 

“It is astonishing when people pick up the phone and offer a donation this big,” Stearns said.

According to the Big Falls Preserve website, the land trust will work on the preserve throughout 2019, posting maps and providing safe public access to the trails.

“Our challenge is to continuously improve the trails and get good education out there so people don’t bump into each other or get lost,” Stearns told the board.

In a letter to the Board of Selectmen, Stearns said the project, although independent from the town of New Gloucester and the city of Auburn, is a collaboration between the preserve and the municipalities that should offer increasing benefits in the future.

“As New Gloucester continues to prosper with growth and new residents, it is more important than ever that we work together to reach common goals of hunting access, farmland preservation and stewardship for the town’s ecological gems,” Stearns wrote. 

Steans also said the land’s location on the edge of the Intervale, a region in New Gloucester home to another Royal River Trust land preserve, has an important place in regional ecology.

“The Intervale is hands down the best habitat for birds, wildlife and other species in the entire Royal River watershed,” Stearns said. “Those marshes and wetlands and streams and forests really do well in terms of species of interest for sportsmen and ecology.”

“This is such a win-win for citizens and the environment and for sportsmen,” Libby added. “It’s very great news.”

According to the preserve’s website, the Auburn land was purchased from Fred Huntress, a real estate agent, in the 1980s.

“I can remember the day that Fred called me with the intriguing question, ‘Do want to buy the waterfall?’” Michael Fralich wrote.

The other parcel, purchased in 1995, was originally owned by Reginald Parent, a Lewiston mill worker who constructed a hunting cabin on the property in the 1950s.

According to Fralich, Parent and his family would drive from Lewiston on weekends to hunt and cut firewood on this land. Several remnants of Parent’s ownership remain on the land, including Parent’s rusted, 1947 Plymouth, forever parked in the woods. 

According to the same letter, the trust, in its 30-year history, has helped conserve more than 4,000 acres in the Royal River watershed, including a 1,700-acre Shaker Village Conversation easement, and assisted in expanding Bradbury Mountain State Park.

At Monday night’s meeting, Fralich said he was looking forward to still enjoying the serenity of the trails, without taking the responsibility of ownership of the land.

“People will probably still get lost,” he said, “but it won’t be my problem anymore.”

Joe Watts of Portland with dog, Lilah, leads a group of his friends Sunday on the Big Falls Preserve trail in New Gloucester. The preserve, straddling New Gloucester and Auburn, is a new hiking destination from the Royal River Conservation Trust. The group found the trails online and made a day of the exploration. (Sun Journal photo by Andree Kehn)

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