Cathance River Nature Preserve

Cathance River Nature Preserve is a 230-acre easement property adjacent to the Cathance River in Topsham. The preserve features almost 8,000 feet of shorefront on the Cathance River, making this property important to the river’s ecological health. The Cathance River is one of six rivers flowing to Merrymeeting Bay, a resource of statewide ecological significance. The preserve is open to the public and hosts an extensive network of trails that provide wonderful views of river rapids, flat-water, and the large Heath Bog.

The Cathance River is one of the region’s hidden gems, retaining a remote feel despite its proximity to Topsham’s busy community center. The public and private conservation lands traversed by the Cathance Trails are crucial to the health of the Cathance River, which flows to the ecologically significant, globally unique, and economically valuable Merrymeeting Bay. Due in large part to the extensive areas of wild rice and excellent fish spawning and nursery habitat, the tidal freshwater marshes of the Cathance and Merrymeeting Bay support thousands of water-dependent migratory birds, large raptors, and over 60 species of fish. The Cathance River Trails provide the opportunity to observe the wild rapids of the Cathance in spring, see the many animals that call this area home, and visit unique habitats such as a heath fen and freshwater tidal marsh.

The Cathance River Nature Preserve was created after extensive conversations between Topsham’s Future, a citizen’s group formed by John and Carla Rensenbrink, and John Wasileski, the developer of Highland Green, envisioning what a preserve could offer the larger community. John Wasileski donated a conservation easement on the 230-acre parcel to the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust (BTLT) in 2001. Around the same time, the Cathance River Education Alliance (CREA) was created to promote ecological awareness and nature-based learning at the Cathance River Nature Preserve. BTLT and CREA worked with Highland Green to create and manage over five miles of trails on the conserved land, and BTLT extended the trail system over time onto nearby conserved lands, including Head of Tide Park. After decades of close partnership, CREA and BTLT merged their organizations in 2023 to better serve the community. Through this “natural” alliance, BTLT and CREA recognize that robust nature-based education is essential to raising the next generation of conservationists who will steward our lands and waters into the future.

Cathance River Nature Preserve was the catalyst for BTLT’s effort to establish a conservation corridor along the Cathance River. Over 1,100 acres have been conserved, protecting habitat, water quality, and recreation along the river. Visitors can enjoy nine miles of trails within the watershed, including the connection to Head of Tide Park via the locally designed and fabricated aluminum pedestrian Clay Brook Bridge.

Head of Tide Park is a collaborative project of the Town of Topsham and BTLT. The Park protects and enhances the head of tide area on the Cathance River, including a spectacular fifteen-foot waterfall. Facilities include picnic areas, toilet facilities, parking, waterfall viewing area, and hand-carry boat access to both upstream and tidal portions of the river.

Trail Details

Please respect the landowner’s generosity in sharing this beautiful area and observe use restrictions.

  • Dogs and bikes are not allowed at the Preserve. Bikes are allowed on Rensenbrink Way to access the Ecology Center.
  • No fires, motorized vehicles, or camping is allowed.
  • The Preserve is open dawn to dusk.
  • No hunting is permitted by the landowner.

Directions to Cathance River Nature Preserve: Cathance River Nature Preserve is located at the Highland Green development in Topsham. From Route 201 in Topsham, take Route 196 east (Coastal Connector) to the first set of lights. Turn left at the lights into Highland Green on Village Drive and continue straight to where Village Drive intersects with Mountain Road and Evergreen Circle. Continue straight on Evergreen Circle at the intersection with Mountain Road past the Community Center and continue approximately .8 miles to the Ecology Center parking area on your right. As parking is limited, please park efficiently to allow space for others. Hiker Parking is permanently closed.

Map: Cathance River Trails