At 3,200 acres, the protected sandplain grassland community found at the Kennebunk Plains is the largest intact example of this ecosystem in New England. Grassland habitat, never abundant in the Northeast, is declining rapidly due to development and changing agricultural practices. The sandy dry soils underlying the Plains made them a particular target for residential development. Fortunately, the rare habitat was spared that fate, thanks to the cooperative efforts of The Nature Conservancy and the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife (IF&W) who now manage the property. The Land for Maine’s Future program supported two land acquisitions, totaling 1,691 acres. The Kennebunk Land Trust and the Kennebunk, Kennebunkport, Wells Water Districts, Town of Kennebunk, and Great Works Regional Land Trust also helped in protecting the Plains.
Roads through the grassland pass by ponds and rare stands of pitch pine and scrub, providing walkers and mountain bikers with wonderful birdwatching opportunities (with dozens of resident species, many of them uncommon) and a colorful spectrum of native grasses and flowers. Kennebunk Plains is one of the last strongholds in the northeast for a variety of endangered grassland birds, including the Grasshopper Sparrow, Vesper Sparrow, Horned Lark and Upland Sandpiper. It is also home to an endangered reptile, the northern black racer snake. In late August/early September, the Plains turn purple with the blooming of the Northern blazing star, an extremely rare flower (90 percent of its global population lies in the Kennebunk Plains). Two other rare plants, white-topped aster and upright bindweed, grow nearby. Recreational opportunities abound, with fishing and swimming along 3.5 miles of the Mousam River. In winter, snowmobilers and skiers traverse the extensive trail system. The continuing health of the grassland habitat depends on periodic fires. To improve the grassland habitat, The Nature Conservancy and the IF&W (with help from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the local fire department) conduct controlled burns on the plains every year, weather permitting.
Bird & other wildlife watching, hiking, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, horseback riding, mountain biking, and snowmobiling
Southern Maine – York, Cumberland
Directions from nearest town
DeLorme Maine Atlas and Gazetteer Map 2, D-5. At the intersection of Route 9A and Route 1 in Kennebunk, go West on Route 9A (High Street) for about 0.3 miles, then right onto Route 99 for about 4 miles until seeing a small IF&W parking lot is on the right (for the Northern side of the Plains). To explore the southern portion, continue west on Route 99 for 1 mile, taking a sharp left onto McGuire Road. There is a small parking lot on the right side.