Wells Barrens Preserve

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367 acres in Wells, Maine.

Conservation Work at Wells Barren Preserve

In August of 2015, a team of Nature Conservancy staff participated in stream restoration work at Wells Barren Preserve. The work involved a training session -- in part funded by The Nature Conservancy -- on the use of a grip hoist. This tool can easily move very large and heavy objects, such as boulders, using a series of cables and hoists.

Over the course of two days we removed a barrier out of Branch Brook — the stream that flows through both Wells Barren and Kennebunk Plains preserves. The removal of this dam from Branch Brook will improve stream flow, fish passage and, as the stream is a major source of water for the Kennebunk, Kennebunkport and Wells Water District, water quality for the region.

Read more about the training and the stream restoration on the Wells Reserve Blog.

When Protected

Wells Barrens, which abuts both the state’s Kennebunk Plains Wildlife Management Area and the Conservancy’s Kennebunk Plains Preserve, consists of sandplain grassland and early successional forest that has ecological importance as critical wildlife habitat. It was purchased by The Nature Conservancy in 2007 from Wells Blueberry, Inc. Wells Barrens provides habitat for black racer snakes, grassland and early successional forest nesting birds such as vesper sparrow, upland sandpiper, and prairie warbler  and rare plant species like the northern blazing star. Furthermore, the preserve lies above an important drinking water aquifer within the Branch Brook Watershed, a key drinking water resource for Kennebunk, Kennebunkport, and Wells. The preservation of this sandplain keeps the municipal drinking water source naturally clean, supplying a valuable ecosystem service to the surrounding community.

The Nature Conservancy also holds a conservation easement on 175 acres adjacent to the preserve that includes much of the buffer to Branch Brook. The land is owned by Kennebunk, Kennebunkport, and Wells Water District.

Ecological Value & Features

The sandplain grassland, low-shrub heathland, and surrounding forests of Wells Barrens provide habitat for nine state-listed rare plant species and eleven state endangered or threatened animals. The area covers an ancient glacial melt-water river delta that is bordered to the north by the Mousam River and to the south by the Merriland River. Wells Barrens together with Kennebunk Plains is the largest intact example of sandplain grasslands remaining in New England. Exemplary natural communities at the Wells Barrens include Little Bluestem – Blueberry Sandplain Grassland, Pitch Pine Heath Barrens, Pitch Pine-Scrub Oak Barrens, and Red Maple Alluvial Swamps.

In addition to exemplary natural communities, high density upland shrublands, Oak-Pine Woodlands, vernal pools, and spring-fed freshwater streams provide habitat for native eastern brook trout and reptiles including the ribbon snake and three rare turtles: the spotted, wood, and eastern box turtles. The US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) describes the Wells Barrens\Kennebunk Plains area as globally significant for unique vegetation and as an important migratory and grassland bird nesting area, and has documented 50 species of birds nesting on the plains and an additional 86 species of birds shown to be dependent on the area as migrants.

Wells Barrens is managed with controlled burns implemented by trained Conservancy and partner staff. The flora and fauna of the Wells Barrens is dominated by fire tolerant plant species that are well-adapted to the nutrient poor soils on site and that respond favorably to periodic fire. Burning maintains the grassland community necessary for nesting habitat for grassland birds. Grasslands and shrublands are ephemeral in the New England landscape, and without burning the grasslands will become invaded with pitch pine, gray birch, red oak, white pine, and pin cherry. Fire creates a change in vegetative structure and composition, creating new openings and initiating a nutrient release that increases food availability for many species. Carefully controlled fires are necessary for the health of the entire grassland ecosystem.

Visiting Guidelines

  • Day use only, no camping
  • No fires
  • Carry out all trash, leave no trace
  • Bikes and motorized vehicles prohibited except snowmobile use on authorized trail only
  • No pets
  • Please stay on the trail

There are four loop trails on the preserve labeled with yellow, red, white and blue TNC emblems and arrows. The trails are from the parking lot off of Wire Road.

Before you visit, download this map of Wells Barrens Preserve and its trail system.


Take the Wells Exit Number 19 from I-95/Maine Turnpike. At the lights (after you pass the toll), turn right (west) onto Route 109.

Travel West on Rt. 109 toward Sanford for approximately 5.0 miles. Wire Rd will be on your right after you pass through a small village.

Turn right (northeast) onto Wire Rd. and travel for approximately 1.5 miles to 572 Wire Rd. The parking lot will be on your left adjacent to the driveway to the preserve.


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