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Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve
Laudholm mainbuilding.JPG
Laudholm Farm buildings.
Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve is located in the United States
Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve
Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve
Location in the United States
Location Wells, Maine
Area 2,250 acres (9.1 km2)
Established 1984

Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve, located in Wells, Maine, USA, is 2,250 acres (9.1 km2) of protected land headquartered at a restored saltwater farm called Laudholm. As a National Estuarine Research Reserve, the Wells Reserve works to expand knowledge of coasts and estuaries, engage people in environmental learning, and involve communities in conservation, all with a goal of protecting and restoring coastal ecosystems around the Gulf of Maine. Wells Reserve funding is largely through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the nonprofit Laudholm Trust.


The Wells Reserve at Laudholm is open to the public every day from 7 am to sunset. 7 miles (11 km) of trails cross woodlands, wetlands, grasslands, salt marsh, and sand beach. Some research areas are closed to public access. The managed lands include three estuaries: the Webhannet River estuary, the Little River estuary (fed by the Merriland River and Branch Brook watersheds), and the Ogunquit River estuary. The uplands include one of southern Maine's largest managed grasslands. Also on the uplands are several conserved farm buildings, dating mostly to the 19th century, which are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.


Laudholm mainbuilding ii
Laudholm Farm main building.

The historic buildings of Laudholm Farm are used by the Wells Reserve for several purposes.

The main farmhouse holds a Visitor Center with exhibits (open weekdays - and weekends from Memorial Day through Columbus Day) and staff offices. The horse barn is used for special events, education activities, and storage. The cow barn holds an auditorium and library.

The modern Maine Coastal Ecology Center, which opened in 2001, includes a research laboratory, teaching laboratory, exhibits, and offices.

The Alheim Commons, on an adjacent part of the Wells Reserve property, provides dormitory facilities for scientists, educators, and land managers working at the reserve or with its partners.

Research and monitoring

Since the 1980s, the Wells Reserve research program has been expanding knowledge of coasts and estuaries with an emphasis on ensuring healthy salt marsh ecosystems. Some key areas of research include:

  • fish distribution and growth
  • salt marsh restoration
  • coastal watershed land use
  • invasive species
  • biological productivity in estuaries
  • patterns in plant communities
  • avian productivity and survivorship
  • Lyme disease ecology

Staff scientists also continually monitor trends in weather, water quality, nutrients, and plant and animal communities, contributing to a national effort that promotes effective coastal zone management.

Education and training

Wells Reserve educators engage people in environmental learning, both on-site and in local communities. Each year, more than 3,000 children and adults participate in a variety of educational programs at the site, which serves as a living laboratory. The Wells Reserve also maintains indoor facilities to enrich teaching opportunities. Formal educational offerings include:

  • school field trips
  • teacher trainings
  • guided tours and programs
  • lectures and workshops
  • curriculum kit rentals
  • activity backpacks and trail guides
  • summer day camps

The nationally recognized Coastal Training Program provides resource managers, regulators, politicians, and other decision-makers with information on sound coastal management, as well as opportunities to collaborate on watershed initiatives.

Conservation and stewardship

Wells Reserve resource specialists manage about 500 acres (2.0 km2) representing many habitats that support an impressive flora and fauna. Acting as a model site for stewardship, methods of active management employed at the Wells Reserve include:

  • controlling invasive plant species
  • maintaining and creating shrublands as wildlife habitat
  • protecting rare plants and endangered animals
  • maintaining fields for grassland nesting birds
  • managing an over-abundant deer population

The Wells Reserve also involves communities in conservation by providing mapping services, technical assistance, training programs, and conservation data useful for the protection and care of land and water resources.

Protection and preservation

The protected lands comprising the Wells Reserve are entirely within the Town of Wells, Maine. These conservation lands are owned by the Maine Department of Conservation (533 acres), United States Fish and Wildlife Service/Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge (1,428 acres), Town of Wells (249 acres), and Wells Reserve Management Authority (40 acres).

The Wells Reserve site, farmed for well over three centuries, holds a prominent place in the town's history. The Laudholm Farm campus reflects New England's progressive farming era. By the 1970s, farming had ceased to be viable, but the effort to permanently protect Laudholm stimulated the establishment of Maine's only National Estuarine Research Reserve. Laudholm Farm's buildings were restored and renovated to respect a treasured heritage while creating a platform for Wells Reserve research, education, and stewardship programs.

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