Blink as you’re headed north on Route 1 into Falmouth and you might miss the entrance to Maine Audubon’s Gilsland Farm Center.

I’d suggest keeping your eyes open and turning into the Maine Audubon’s headquarters, a 65-acre outdoor playground for nature lovers — all just minutes from the center of Portland.

While Maine Audubon’s headquarters has been located at Gilsland Farm since the 1970s, the land has a history stretching back thousands of years. Ages before the first English settlers arrived in Maine in the 1600s, the Wabanakis took advantage of the spot. The combination of tidal flats, the Presumpscot River and a relatively calm part of Casco Bay made for an ideal settling place.

Once the English arrived, they split the land up and cleared timber to create farms and harvest timber, hence the large meadows that make up much of the sanctuary today.

Today, the land is home to the Gilsland Farm Audubon Center, an environmentally friendly building that houses offices, facilities for public programming, a Maine Audubon Nature Store and the Teacher’s Resource Center.

It’s also home to nearly 3 miles of hiking trails that show off the diversity of the land that borders Casco Bay and the Presumpscot. It isn’t a terribly strenuous set of hiking trails — you can easily walk the entire network in a morning — but the flora and fauna are impressive.

The shortest and easiest trail on the grounds is the Pond Meadow Trail, a half-mile jaunt that takes you (nearly literally) over the river and through the woods. The visitor’s guide promises that the trail offers the “greatest diversity of habitat on the sanctuary,” as it leads visitors alongside a pond, through oak and hemlock woods, and to marshes on the Presumpscot Estuary.

The West Meadow Trail offers the best views of Portland, winding through an open meadow to bluffs looking towards the Forest City. The trail also leads to two of the sanctuary’s three observation blinds, so if you’re a birder you’ll find secluded spots to park with binoculars.

Where the other trails have spurs and paths winding through them, the North Meadow Trail is a long loop around the northern end of the property. In my experience, the trail has also been the best place to spot wildlife at Gilsland. Fox and deer definitely prowl through the meadows early in the morning, and there a large number of woodchucks on the grounds. Bird lovers will also find a third observation blind and an osprey platform on the North Meadow Trail.

All the trails are given a slightly otherworldly tint by Wendy Klemperer’s sculptures, which are prowling around the landscape until the end of the month.

The trails at Gilsland Farm aren’t taxing, but that’s a nice reminder that every hike doesn’t need to be an extreme workout. I won’t abandon the Precipice Trail or Goose Eye Mountain any time soon, but it’s great to have such a diverse habitat in Portland’s backyard. Not only that, but the trails at the Audubon sanctuary are pleasantly family- and kid-friendly.

Along with it’s network of trails, there are plenty of programs and classes at Gilsland Farm. Some, like a Thursday morning bird watching hike, are weekly affairs. Others are one-off talks or events, like a Peony Bloom and Ice Cream Social on June 18. Full event listings can be found on the Maine Audubon website. Events can be attended by the public and Maine Audubon members, with prices for members usually significantly slashed.

I’ve talked with a number of people on the peninsula who, despite our proximity, haven’t ever made it out to Gilsland Farms. If you’re used to the Portland Trails network and want a change of scenery that can make you forget you’re right next to the city, the Gilsland Farm Center is an oasis of Maine’s natural beauty.

Josh Christie is a freelance writer and lifetime outdoors enthusiast. He has been writing every other week, sharing the space with his father, John Christie. Josh can be reached at:

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