Nature In Its Place

Thorncrag Nature Sanctuary offers a serene and educational escape in Lewiston

“We want the forest to be the teacher,” says Gary Maurer as he leads me through the woods. His wife, Jeri, is trailing behind us, stopping to point out patches of wildflowers as we move along the corridor. Dirt paths weave through the Thorncrag Nature Sanctuary in Lewiston, some forking to the left or right to end at stone fireplaces, while others move deeper through the woods and into a rougher terrain. What started in 1921 as a gift of 45 acres to Bates College professor Jonathan Young Stanton and the Stanton Bird Club has since grown into 450 acres. Over the past 100 years, 14 different parcels of land were gifted or purchased as part of a gradual development of the club. The Stanton Bird Club, which began in 1919, holds weekly birdwatching walks in Lewiston, Auburn, and surrounding locations on Wednesday mornings from May through July. Gary has been a steward of the sanctuary since 2015 and has been coming here with Jeri since the early 1990s. “When we first came to the community, this was not a place that anybody felt safe,” says Jeri, who described the land as “party central.” But through the efforts of the club the area is a sanctuary again.

Members of the Bird Club took action to preserve the land and the spirit of the deed, which comes with unique restrictions. Land must be used for the protection of habitat for birds, plants, and animals; for educational purposes; and for passive recreation for the surrounding community. However, if the third interferes with the first two, the recreation component must be eliminated. To protect wildlife habitat, the group began banning dogs in 2010. “Dogs were running through ponds filled with frog and salamander eggs, and we were losing all of our ground-nesting birds,” says Jeri. While they received a lot of criticism for the decision, they couldn’t fully preserve the land and its inhabitants with the constant presence of canine friends. Since dogs were excluded, ground-nesting birds have returned, and wildlife is flourishing. Foxes and deer cohabitate with warblers, woodpeckers, doves, owls, phoebes, and more. Today, the nature preserve welcomes all walks of human life, from organized groups of two-year-olds and their parents to ninth-grade science classes to groups of older explorers. Thorncrag Nature Sanctuary is a place for immersive education and birdwatching, and an oasis for the twin cities and the surrounding region.

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