Potential Audubon/Kieve partnership on Hog Island creates local anxiety

Hog Island as seen from the Hockomock Trail. (Paula Roberts photo)

When Mid-Coast Audubon Society members and other local devotees of Hog Island — a 300-acre island off the coast of Bremen that has been an Audubon camp and education center for almost 75 years — heard rumors earlier this fall that ownership of the property might be transferred to Kieve-Wavus Education Inc., it ignited a swift and not altogether positive response.

“We are disappointed that we were left in the dark and had no opportunity until now to approach our membership and the local community for possible alternatives,” Mid-Coast Audubon wrote in a letter sent to the Maine and National Audubon Societies in September.

Talks between National Audubon, Maine Audubon and Camp Kieve are ongoing and no firm agreement has been made as to the future of the $5 million property, said National Audubon Sr. Vice President of Education and Centers Judy Braus.

Although Braus declined to comment on specifics of the negotiations until they’re finalized, she confirmed that transfer of ownership is on the table but stressed that it is only one of several possibilities being discussed.

“Hog Island is a very special place for a lot of people who have been there over the years,” Braus said. “We’re looking for the best solution to protect the island and keep running the programs that the island is famous for. We haven’t made any commitment to anyone.”

Camp Kieve is an 85-year-old, Nobleboro-based nonprofit that operates year-round leadership camps for 10,000 kids each year, said third-generation Kieve Director Henry Kennedy.

Kennedy also declined to comment on specifics of the negotiations, but said he hopes a meeting between Kieve and Audubon scheduled for Dec. 1 will be “the next and final meeting.”

Opponents to a transfer of ownership see the move as a loss for Audubon and feel that the organization did not fully investigate options that would allow the island to remain entirely under Audubon’s control.

Mid-Coast Audubon, an affiliate of Maine Audubon, is not opposed to forming a partnership with Kieve or another organization, said Chapter President Sue Schubel.

“A partnership is a good thing, but if you’re not the owner, the future is uncertain,” Schubel said. “You can’t get a multi-million dollar island just any time.”

Mid-Coast Audubon’s primary concern is that Hog Island remains “an Audubon property, preserved in perpetuity,” Schubel said.

One local organization, Friends of Hog Island, is currently in the process of incorporating and receiving nonprofit status. FOHI membership overlaps to a large extent with Mid-Coast Audubon, and the group is trying to get National Audubon to delay their decision about the future of the island and consider FOHI as an alternative for partnership, said Juanita Roushdy, FOHI President and member of the Mid-Coast Audubon board of directors.

FOHI believes that Hog Island could become financially viable for Audubon through fundraising and better marketing of the island and the camps.

Attempts to find out from Audubon exactly how much FOHI would need to contribute each year to make the island financially sustainable have proven unsuccessful, Roushdy said. The group is currently operating with a goal of raising $50,000 per year and creating an additional endowment fund.

They started fundraising in September, and have already raised about $25,000, with more large contributions pending their approval as a tax-exempt nonprofit, Roushdy said. FOHI is asking National Audubon for two years to establish themselves and prove that they have sustainable funding to carry Hog Island into the future, Roushdy said.

The relative ease with which they’ve raised money so far speaks to the strong attachment many people feel to the place and the long-term viability of FOHI’s campaign, Roushdy said.

Financially challenging

Hog Island is famous among birders, and some top ornithologists have worked on the island and in the Audubon programs. Since 1936, when former owner Millicent Todd Bingham gave it to National Audubon, thousands have attended residential camps on the island and many still recall them as life changing experiences.

In a recent letter to Mid-Coast Audubon, the Maine State Historic Preservation Commission indicated that the island’s place in conservation history would likely qualify it for the National Register of Historic Places, Schubel said.

Roushdy attended the camps as a child. When she moved to Maine from North Carolina last year, she chose Bremen because of her memories on Hog Island.

“It was such a unique experience,” Roushdy said. “The physical beauty of this area is amazing, and the instructors at the camps are leaders in the field of ornithology; you get to meet them like they’re family.”

Unfortunately, maintenance, staffing, insurance and the other costs associated with Hog Island have been a financial burden to Audubon for years, officials said.

In 2000, management of the property and camps was transferred from National Audubon to Maine Audubon. The two organizations are incorporated separately and do not share financial ties, officials said.

Although officials at National Audubon, Maine Audubon and Mid-Coast Audubon were somewhat unclear on the details of the arrangement, it appears National Audubon retained title to much of the island, with Maine Audubon taking over only the portion of the island with the camp buildings, said Maine Audubon Executive Director Ted Koffman.

Braus and Schubel said that National Audubon retains the title to the entire island, with only the buildings themselves under Maine Audubon ownership.

What’s clear, however, is that Maine Audubon took over financial responsibility for the island and the programs.

For much of the last decade, “we’ve run an average of a $100,000 per year deficit on Hog Island,” Koffman said.

In 2009, Maine Audubon canceled all camps on Hog Island. Even without running any camps, the organization can’t afford to maintain control of the island, Koffman said.

“It costs us $20,000 to $30,000 per year to keep it mothballed,” Koffman said. Maine Audubon has been trying for some time to transfer the property back to National Audubon, Koffman said.

In conjunction with National Audubon, they began seeking a long-term solution that would provide financial stability and allow the island to remain open to the public.

Working with an independent consultant, it was concluded that the best solution was to seek partnership with another organization, Braus said. She named The Chewonki Foundation, several universities and Kieve as groups that were considered.

The problem arose because, while Mid-Coast Audubon was aware significant changes were taking place in the management of Hog Island, they were caught off guard by the news that National Audubon was considering a transfer of ownership. Several members of the organization said they felt like National Audubon “pulled the rug out from under us.”

Mid-Coast Audubon was upset that they were not involved in the decision-making or at least kept informed as the process moved forward. FOHI were upset that National Audubon did not look locally for potential financial support.

Both National Audubon and Maine Audubon insisted that they were not making any effort to hide any aspect of the process.

Braus said no effort was made to shut local organizations out of the process, because “Audubon, unlike other conservation organizations, is truly about engaging people in communities.”

Koffman said Maine Audubon made an effort to inform all relevant stakeholders, and not involving Mid-Coast Audubon was an oversight, not an effort to conceal Audubon’s actions.

FOHI was not incorporated during the period that Audubon was exploring possible partners, but Roushdy said that had they known relinquishing ownership of the property was on the table, they would have acted sooner in their efforts to ensure that Audubon can maintain full control of the property. National Audubon will be meeting with FOHI on Nov. 23, Roushdy and Braus said.

“We just want to explore what the options are,” Braus said. “Any decision we make will be for what we believe is the best chance to protect the island.”

A natural choice

Kieve was a natural choice for a partner on Hog Island, Braus said, because Audubon and Kieve have had an informal partnership for more than 30 years.

The two organizations have frequently shared facilities and resources, and even before discussion about Hog Island began in earnest, Kieve had been seeking to formalize that relationship, Kennedy said.

“We’ve trying to do it with a piece of paper now, rather than a handshake,” Kennedy said. He cited frequent changes in Audubon leadership as a reason for the push towards formalizing the partnership.

“There’s so much turnover at Audubon it’s hard to know who to talk to,” Kennedy said.

Formalizing their relationship will ensure that it survives in the future, and in relation to Hog Island, Kennedy thinks that’s a positive thing.

“I’ve got a lot of passion for that place, and so do they, and we bring a lot of business acumen to the table,” Kennedy said.

In the midst of discussions about the future of Hog Island, National Audubon ran a relatively successful series of camps on the island in 2010, which opponents of transferring ownership to Kieve point to as a sign of financial viability.

However, the venture was not necessarily a standalone financial success, Koffman said. The program reportedly did not lose money for National Audubon, but that success was dependent on significant subsidies from Maine Audubon and Kieve, Koffman said.

Maine Audubon put a significant amount of money into the buildings, dock and other projects to prepare the island for campers, which they did not recoup from the 2010 camps, Koffman said.

Kieve provided the camps with heavily discounted rates for use of their boat and crew for transportation between the island and the mainland, which Kennedy said is an example of one of the major advantages of the formal partnership currently in the works.

“It doesn’t make any sense for two nonprofits in the same area to have duplicate resources,” Kennedy said.

Currently, Audubon’s greatest need for the boat is during the spring and fall, when birds are migrating; Kieve uses the boat primarily in the summer. The same holds true for some staff and other costs, Kennedy said.

Ultimately, Kennedy doesn’t believe that a partnership between Kieve and Audubon will change what takes place on Hog Island, regardless of what form the partnership takes. Should the property transfer to Kieve’s ownership, they will work closely with Audubon on any plans for the future of the island, he said.

“I see very little change, to be honest,” Kennedy said. “Except that more people will have a chance to learn from Audubon and Kieve.”

Audubon’s programming will continue to run on Hog Island, under Audubon’s direction, if a partnership is formed with Kieve.

Kieve’s stated mission is to “empower young people and adults to contribute positively to society,” according to their website, but teaching environmental stewardship is important to the organization, and they are making a shift toward including more environmental education in their curriculum, Kennedy said.

“It’s something we’ve been doing, but haven’t blown our horn about,” Kennedy said. Kieve recently finished a sizable capital campaign, rebuilt much of their two campuses and hired several new full-time employees, “and now it’s time to ramp up the program, including environmental education.”

Kennedy sees the Hog Island partnership as an asset in Kieve’s efforts to increase those programs.

Asked about the tangible benefits Kieve will receive from a formal partnership with Audubon, Kennedy said Kieve gets “a long term relationship with Audubon and access to a beautiful piece of property; it’s really a simple question to answer by going there. We cannot miss this opportunity.”

Kieve has recently received a significant amount of grant money, and Kennedy believes that a strong business plan and two solid partners will make Hog Island more attractive to donors and grant committees.

When asked if the reason they’re seeking this partnership is that Hog Island is a way to increase Kieve’s portfolio, both for donor and grant applications and as an advertising point for their programs, Kennedy replied, “From a purely revenue standpoint, I guess you could say that.”

Although it may not ease the concerns of those who fear Audubon will lose one of its crown jewels if they cede control of Hog Island, Kennedy and Braus both said that Kieve and Audubon share similar missions, and that teaching leadership and environmental stewardship go hand in hand.

More details about the nature of the partnership between Audubon and Kieve, if one is formed, and the future of Hog Island should be available after the Dec. 1 meeting. For now, all involved will have to wait and see.

“Luckily, we all want the same thing,” Kennedy said, echoing a statement made by almost everyone interviewed about the issue: “To protect the place and have good environmental education programs.”

National Audubon is currently taking applications for their 2011 summer programs on Hog Island.

The 2011 programming includes: Maine Seabird Biology and Conservation I, May 29-June 3; Joy of Birding, June 12-17; Field Ornithology, June 19-24; Coastal Maine Bird Studies for Teens, June 19-24; Sharing Nature: An Educator’s Week, July 14-19; Audubon Chapter Leadership Program, Aug. 15-20; Maine Seabird Biology and Conservation II, Sept. 11-16.

Information about the camps and how to register is available online at http://hogisland.audubon.org, or call 607-257-7308, ext. 14.

Reprinted with permission of The Lincoln County News.

Free Open House at historic Hog Island Audubon Camp in Bremen (7/06)

Members of the public are invited to the island, which normally is accessible only by private boat, to explore, take a guided hike, tour the camp’s restored 19th-century farm buildings, or just relax and enjoy the wildlife.

Round-trip boat transportation starts at 10 a.m.; last boat leaves the island at 4 p.m. Visitors are encouraged to bring a picnic lunch.

“This is a rare opportunity to visit the camp and explore this spectacular island where people have connected with nature for 70 years,” said Seth Benz, director of Hog Island Audubon Camp.

Since 1936, thousands of adults, educators, young people and families have explored Maine nature at the camp through residential summer sessions led by expert naturalists.

This summer, for the first time, Maine Audubon is offering a number of half- and one-day naturalist-led adventures to connect with nature at and near the camp.

For more information about the open house, contact Linda Shary at (207) 781-2330, ext. 233, or lshary@maineaudubon.org.

For information about Hog Island residential sessions and half- and one-day adventures, visit www.maineaudubon.org or call (207) 781-2330, ext. 215.

To get to Hog Island Audubon Camp

From the south

From U.S. Route 1, exit onto Business Route 1 and drive through Damariscotta. After 1.6 miles, turn right onto Biscay Road at the traffic light at McDonald’s. After 5.1 miles turn left onto Route 32 at the ‘T’ intersection. After 1.4 miles turn right onto Keene Neck Road. The boat dock is 1.6 miles down at the end of the road.

From the north

From U.S. Route 1 in Waldoboro, turn left (south) onto Route 32. After 7.6 miles turn left onto Keene Neck Road. The boat dock is 1.6 miles down at the end of the road.

Scholarships Available to Audubon Staff and Members (2/06)

BREMEN, Maine, March 2, 2006 — Scholarships are available for Audubon staff, interns and chapter members to attend residential sessions this summer at Hog Island Audubon Camp in Bremen.

Those interested can get an application by e-mailing camps@maineaudubon.org, calling (207) 781-2330, ext. 215, or downloading from www.maineaudubon.org.

Accessible only by boat, Hog Island Audubon Camp is located on a 330-acre coastal wildlife sanctuary in midcoast Maine. Since 1936, its summer sessions for adults, educators, young people and families have been led by some of the most respected naturalists and environmental educators in the nation.

“If everyone had the opportunity to spend a week at a place like Hog Island, I believe our world would be a much different place,” says adult camper Stacie Moon from Bowie, Maryland, “because living in nature can really change one’s opinions of the world.”

Campers awake to the sound of woodland bird and lobster boats and spend the day exploring the island’s spruce forests, fern-filled meadows, and rocky tide pools. Evenings feature presentations by special guests. Sessions include gourmet meals and lodging in rustic 19th-century buildings.

“I was just nine years old when I read an account by Roger Tory Peterson about a magical place called Hog Island Audubon Camp,” said Kenn Kauffman, international birding authority, author, and educator. “Now I teach a session or two there every year, helping carry on a tradition with results that are felt across the continent.”

Results are felt across the continent as well as in the heart. “I cannot say enough about my week at Hog Island,” said Moon. “It was an incredible experience that has changed me in many ways.”

Sessions in 2006 include a Hog Island Reunion for alumni to relax, reflect and reconnect with nature and old friends (July 24-26, $195) as well as an Audubon Leadership Workshop for Audubon chapter or center leaders to network with peers and learn how to raise funds, energize volunteers, incorporate Audubon initiatives and offer compelling nature programs (August 13-19, $700).

Hog Island Audubon Camp’s other 2006 offerings include:

For Adults

Field Ornithology, June 25-July 1 ($1,050)

Join nationally known ornithologists Kenn Kaufman, Scott Weidensaul, Steve Kress, and others to explore the marshes, beaches, barrens, seabird colonies and forests of Hog Island and beyond, where Rachel Carson and Roger Tory Peterson once birded.

Natural History of the Maine Coast, July 2-8 ($1,050)

Soak in the sights, sounds and smells of coastal Maine while exploring tide pools, checking out seabird islands, searching for butterflies and more. This signature session has delighted participants for 65 years.

Workshop for Educators, July 9-15 ($1,000)

Science and nonscience educators: rejuvenate your spirit and learn from peers and renowned instructors how to incorporate environmental education into your lesson plans. Session includes field trips, boat cruises, take-home materials and more.

Cultural and Natural History of Coastal Maine, July 16-22 ($1,200)

Explore islands and rocky ledges, search for evidence of prehistoric human settlements, and visit seabird colonies and Maine’s richest lobster habitat in spectacular Muscongus Bay.

Naturalizing by Kayak, July 16-22 or August 28-31 ($1,200/$695)

Explore secluded coves and marshes, thread through rock ledges, and visit other islands in beautiful Muscongus Bay.

A Maine Island Experience, August 20-26 ($985)

Leave behind the busy tourist route and spend a week walking trails along the rocky shore, exploring tide pools, searching the forest for colorful birds, learning about lobsters and other marine life, and more.

Om on the Island Yoga Retreat, August 28-31 ($395)

Deepen your connection to nature and motivation to take care of it through a weekend of yoga and exploration on spectacular Hog Island.

Bird Migration and Conservation, September 10-16 ($985)

Travel to local migration hot spots such as blueberry barrens, tidal marshes, and the outstanding migrant trap Monhegan Island. On Hog Island, enjoy presentations and discussions with experts.

For Teens and Youth

Bird Studies for Teens, June 25-July 1 ($1,050)

Teens ages 14 to 17: with renowned birder and author Kenn Kaufman, study birds, venture out to a seabird island with Audubon’s Project Puffin, and work alongside biologists as they monitor endangered piping plovers.

Natural History for Teens, July 2-8 ($1,050)

Teens ages 14-17: discover and explore by kayak and foot the interrelationships between coastal Maine’s plants, animals, habitats and landscape.

Coastal Kayaking Adventure, July 10-15 or July 25-29 ($995/$850)

Teens ages 14-17: based from a tenting site on a remote cove of Hog Island, combine sea kayaking, backcountry camping and investigation of the natural world along the Maine coast.

Youth Camp, July 30-August 5 ($1,050)

Boys and girls ages 10-13: learn about yourself, nature and how it all relates. Small sessions promise plenty of personal attention.

For more information about Maine Audubon camp programs, visit www.maineaudubon.org or call (207) 781-2330.

Financial Aid Available for Maine Youth and Teens (2/06)

BREMEN, Maine, February 21, 2006 — Financial aid is available from Maine Audubon for Maine youth and teens to attend residential sessions this summer at Hog Island Audubon Camp in Bremen.

Youth ages 11 to 17 who are interested in the natural world and demonstrate financial need can get an application by e-mailing camps@maineaudubon.org, calling (207) 781-2330, ext. 215, or downloading from www.maineaudubon.org.

Sessions at Hog Island Audubon Camp this summer include Youth Camp for ages 11-13 and Coastal Maine Natural History and Coastal Kayaking Adventure for teens ages 14-17.

Accessible only by boat, Hog Island Audubon Camp is located on a 330-acre coastal wildlife sanctuary in midcoast Maine. Since 1936, its summer sessions for adults, educators, young people and families have been led by some of the most respected naturalists and environmental educators in the nation.

Summer 2006 sessions for Youth and Teens

Natural History for Teens, July 2-8 ($1,050)

Teens ages 14-17 discover and explore by kayak and foot the interrelationships between coastal Maine’s plants, animals, habitats and landscape.

Coastal Kayaking Adventure, July 10-15 or July 25-29 ($995/$850)

Based from a tenting site on a remote cove of Hog Island, teens ages 14-17 combine sea kayaking, backcountry camping and investigation of the natural world along the Maine coast.

Youth Camp, July 30-August 5 ($1,050)

Boys and girls ages 11-13 learn about themselves, nature and how it all relates. Small sessions promise plenty of personal attention.

For more information on these and other Maine Audubon camp sessions for youth and adults, visit www.maineaudubon.org or call (207) 781-2330.

Local Family Donates Land to Audubon Sanctuary

BREMEN, Maine, February 28, 2006 — Bremen residents Daniel and Suzanne Goldenson have donated to Maine Audubon 50 acres of forest off Keene Neck Road in Bremen.

The land, located near the main entrance of Maine Audubon’s Todd Audubon Sanctuary, will be preserved in perpetuity and serve as a wildlife sanctuary as well as an educational site open to the public for habitat and ecology study.

“This land significantly increases our property and opportunities for connecting people with nature,” said Kevin Carley, executive director of Maine Audubon. “Maine Audubon thanks the Goldensons for their generosity and for their vision in recognizing the importance of land conservation.”

“We value being a neighbor of Todd Audubon Sanctuary and are pleased to enhance this important environmental resource in our own back yard,” said Dan Goldenson.

The 50 acres more than doubles the mainland holdings of the sanctuary, which includes 330-acre Hog Island, home to the oldest continuously operating adult environmental education camp in the U.S. Since 1936, Hog Island Audubon Camp has offered summer sessions for adults, educators, young people and families led by some of the most respected naturalists and environmental educators in the nation.

The sanctuary is also home to island and mainland walking trails as well as a seasonal visitors’ center on the mainland featuring interpretive displays and a nature store.

Founded in 1936 by National Audubon Society, the sanctuary is named after Mabel Loomis Todd who purchased Hog Island in 1908 to protect it from development. In 2000 the sanctuary was transferred to Maine Audubon as part of its affiliation with national Audubon.

Maine Audubon has continued to run and expand programming at Hog Island Audubon Camp; however, the need for capital improvements and expansion has grown. Plans for a Hog Island capital campaign are underway.

The Goldensons’ gift is the first local effort in support of this campaign. Funds raised will allow Maine Audubon to upgrade and refurbish old structures and residential facilities; provide new equipment and teaching materials; create an endowment fund to off-set rising operating costs; and ensure the legacy of the historic camp.

The Goldensons, who own nearby Twin Maples Farm, are not new to land preservation. As residents of Princeton, New Jersey for more than 40 years, they organized Friends of Coventry Farm, a local volunteer organization that launched a combined state, county and local campaign to save Princeton’s largest historic farm of 160 acres.

For more information on the Hog Island campaign or the camp’s summer 2006 sessions, visit www.maineaudubon.org or call (207) 781-2330.