Orris Falls Conservation Area

In the heart of Tatnic, straddling the border of South Berwick and Wells, lies the remains of an ancient volcanic caldera. Encompassed within this is an extraordinarily rich area of vernal pools and wetlands. Some of these drain into a marshy area dammed by beaver, then tumble into a 90 ft. gorge, Orris Falls, named for Orris Littlefield who lived nearby in the 1800s. Encompassing 171 acres, Orris Falls Conservation Area is accessed from Thurrell and Emery’s Bridge Roads by rights-of-way through private land, so please respect property boundaries.

The old colonial road that existed long ago is now a trail, with side excursions to the Big Bump and to Balancing Rock, a glacial erratic that has been the subject of great local folkore and speculation – why does it point due south and why doesn’t my compass work here? Trails are rudimentary, blazed or flagged and subject to seasonal closings to prevent erosion. Wildlife abounds on this protected property – but please admire it from a distance with binoculars. Orris Falls is a special area where wildlife thrives in its natural environment.

Printable Orris Falls Conservation Area trail map download

Mobile device trail map download

Google Map for Orris Falls

Directions to Thurrell Road trailhead (at a gated woods road, with parking for two cars):

From S. Berwick: Heading east on Rte. 4, bear right onto Agamenticus Rd.. At Emery’s Bridge Road, stay left on Knights Pond Rd. for 4 miles. Bear right onto Hooper Sands Rd. for .25 mile. Left onto Great Hill Rd. to end, then left onto Thurrell Rd.. 0.9 mile on the right is the trailhead.

From N. Berwick, go 1.9 miles south from the railroad tracks (Lower Main St. becomes Boyd’s Corner Rd.) then right on Thurrell Rd. for 0.9 miles to trailhead on left.

From Ogunquit, take Berwick Rd. as it becomes Ogunquit Rd. and then Boyd’s Corner Rd., a total of 6.8 miles, then go left on Thurrell Rd. for 0 .9 miles to
trailhead on left.

July 2009

A week of work by GWRLT volunteers and a 3-person Maine Conservation Corps crew resulted in a dry crossing and improved trails at Orris Falls Conservation Area.

The trails are now well marked and in good shape. A big thank you to: Scott Carson (6th grade science teacher at Marshwood Middle school), Tim Moroney and Elizabeth Laine for spending full days working on the trail moving rocks; and Bill Thomas and Jane Ahfeld for hosting the crew on their property.

The sign at right is at the Emery's Bridge Road entrance, about 583 Emery's Bridge Road. There is a grassy area with parking for two or three cars, and the right-of-way over private property leads through the opening in the fence and straight back to the woods. Please respect the private property.

from newsletter Fall 2003:

Orris’ Falls Conservation Area sits in the northern corner of South Berwick near the North Berwick/Wells town line. It lies along the edge of a ring of hills that surround a community historically known as Tatnic. Almost half of the parcel is covered by a large wetland that is host to beaver, turtles, wood duck and even a heron rookery. It is the location of several unique geologic features including the “Big Bump”, the Overlook and of course, Orris’ Falls itself. Orris’ Falls Conservation Area also has a rich cultural history and at one time was part of an active farming community.

Great Works Regional Land Trust purchased the first tract of Orris’ Falls in 1999. At the time, it had been heavily logged and a house was to be built on the property. An intense fund raising campaign was launched, supported largely by the local community which succeeded in raising the needed purchase price. Then in March of 2000, the Neal family donated an abutting parcel and in 2001 another parcel was purchased from the Lachance Family. This purchase brought the total area to about 120 acres.

A management plan for Orris Falls is being developed with the help of Spahr and Dabrowski Environmental Analysis. It will address such issues as trail placement and maintenance, signage needs, historical preservation of the farm site and graveyards, access issues, wildlife and habitat management and future acquisitions. It will help guide Great Works in making responsible stewardship decisions for this wonderful and diverse area and serve as a boiler-plate design for creating management plans for other conservation areas.

On Saturday, October 4th, the Orris’ Falls Conservation Area was officially dedicated. Despite soggy weather, a good crowd was there for the ceremonies, including a captivating talk by Nancy Wetzel about the historic significance of the area, the unveiling of a plaque listing the major donors who helped to make it all possible, and tours to Orris’ Falls. Orris’ Falls drops 100 vertical feet over a span of 110 feet in a series of small cascades and has long been a destination for local hikers and families. “Walking on the path to the falls, one can put oneself into the story [Sarah Orne Jewett’s White Rose Road] and the time: the views, the sounds of the waterfall, the marshy wetlands. Even today one can imagine the old farmstead at the site of the old foundations near the head of the gorge.”