Upper St. John
Upper St. John: The St. John River winds through thick forest in northern Maine.

Places We Protect

Upper St. John Forest Preserve


Thick forest surrounds a remarkable free-flowing river in northern Maine.

In the remote forests of northern Maine, the upper St. John River flows for 130 miles without passing a single settlement. The St. John grows from a stream at the outlet of Baker Lake to a major river before crossing into Canada and stands as one of the great wilderness canoe rivers in the eastern U.S. For generations, Mainers and visitors have plied its remote waters and hunted, fished, and camped along its shores. 

In December 1998 The Nature Conservancy raised $35 million in just six weeks and purchased 185,000 acres, including 35 miles of river frontage, from International Paper. This acquisition, the largest carried out by TNC anywhere in the U.S. at the time and the largest conservation purchase in the northeast ever, changed the way much of the conservation community approaches land protection.

Timber Management

Under TNC’s ownership, active timber harvesting has continued using sustainable methods, but not everywhere. Some areas, including where stands of very old trees remain, have been identified as ecological reserves where no logging takes place. Other areas have been selectively logged with prescriptions that emphasize the structure and health of the future forest. The working forest here is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) as responsibly managed to provide environmental, social and economic benefits. 


More recently, TNC has added maple syrup production in the Upper St. John Forest. A new sugarbush lease has been in development over the last several years as a means to conserve habitat values of mature hardwood forest while generating revenue and a sweet and sustainable forest product. With more than 10,000 initial taps installed in 2018, buildout will continue in the coming year with construction of a sugarhouse and the running of additional taps expected to exceed 60,000 within two years—enough to produce 18,000 gallons of Maine maple syrup annually! The habitat maintained here is ideal for warblers and other song birds.

Carbon Sequestration

The Nature Conservancy in Maine is now completing the process to enroll a significant portion of the preserve lands in a forest carbon project, with offsets to be sold in the Western Climate Initiative carbon market, developed through a collaboration of U.S. states and Canadian provinces working together to identify, evaluate, and implement emissions trading policies to tackle climate change at a regional level. TNC is entering a 10-year agreement with Climate Trust Capital, a U.S.-based private investment fund. Climate Trust Capital will assist in developing the forest carbon project, including providing technical services, marketing, and selling carbon offsets.

The upper St. John River in Maine offers a unique, remote, and unspoiled wilderness experience for intrepid paddlers of all ages. Early spring is often the best time to travel down river, taking advantage of higher water levels from the snowmelt and spring rains. A series of campsites along the river allow visitors to enjoy several days travelling downstream. These are maintained by North Maine Woods, a non-profit organization that collects user fees and manages access and primitive facilities in Maine's northern forest. Unlike it's more well-known tributary, the Allagash Wilderness Waterway, the St. John in Maine has no dams to block its course or control its flow, and the shorelines, while equally pristine, are not yet entirely protected.

• Visitors must log in and out at a North Maine Woods (NMW) checkpoint on each visit and pay NMW fees that cover the cost of recreation management.
• Camping is allowed only at designated NMW camping areas; see the NMW website for details.
• The property is open to the public for hunting and fishing, according to state laws and NMW policies; hunting by permission applies to Corner Pond Reserve.
• There are no developed hiking trails 
• All motorized vehicles are prohibited except on existing gravel roads
• Bicycles and horses are prohibited
• Carry your trash out
• Build fires only in authorized steel fire-rings at designated campsites. Campfire permits from the Maine Forest Service are required at designated sites. Call the Maine Forest Service for details.
• Logging vehicles will be on the roads. Drive slowly and carefully with lights on; trucks have the right of way.
• The Upper St. John Forest is a remote place with no services available. Plan carefully for safety and emergencies. Bring extra fuel, spare tires, and a tire repair kit.