Working Waterfront reports on Hog Island developments

The following article — posted on the Working Waterfront website on October 27, 2010 — is reprinted with permission of the Island Institute. We have also posted an [intlink id=”3157″ type=”post”]update[/intlink] from National Audubon.

Audubon turning Hog Island over to Camp Kieve

A Muscongus Bay island, famous among birders, will likely have new owners, the National Audubon Society says.

A visitor reads the Hog Island dedication plaque in 1961. Photo courtesy of the Friends of Hog Island

Hog Island, in the past host to legendary luminaries such as ornithologist Roger Tory Peterson and naturalist Rachel Carson, has been losing money for years and could change hands by the end of the year. Discussions between Audubon officials and Camp Kieve in Nobleboro, also known as Kieve-Wavus Education Inc., are reportedly close to agreement on a deal to transfer the $5 million property. It’s been an Audubon camp and education center since 1936, and over the decades thousands of birders have flocked to the rustic buildings and mossy paths of Hog Island.

The 300-acre island includes a dock, dining and kitchen area, lecture hall and dormitory, as well as rocky shore and beaches. It lies within the town of Bremen, and is tax-exempt. When long-ago owner Millicent Bingham gave the island to National Audubon, she stipulated that it was “to be used solely as a wildlife sanctuary in teaching the aims and ideals of the (society) in the study of conservation and wildlife, and not for any business or commercial purpose.”

Kieve, a nonprofit program that operates year-round, says on its web site that it “empowers young people and adults to contribute positively to society.” Kieve runs programs for Maine public school children to build confidence through individual and group challenges, the site says.

Not everyone is happy about the anticipated transfer of Hog Island. The Mid-coast Audubon Society has sent a letter to its national counterpart saying, “The board and members of Mid-Coast Audubon are alarmed by recent rumors of the imminent transfer of Hog Island to Camp Kieve… If these rumors are true, 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.”

Juanita Roushdy said she moved to Maine from North Carolina a year ago to be near Hog Island where she had happy memories. She had hoped National Audubon would give her group, Friends of Hog Island, a chance to make the center viable again. Audubon officially closed the island operation last year. But Roushdy pointed out that a program this past summer called The Puffin Project, run by Steve Kress from the Cornell lab of ornithology, was successful.

She said she is concerned that Hog Island’s mission may change because Camp Kieve is “not an environmental stewardship or conservation organization.”

Judy Braus, vice president for education and centers at National Audubon, has been involved in continuing negotiations with Kieve and Maine Audubon. She confirmed that her group is concerned that Hog Island has been expensive. Maine Audubon spent several hundred thousand dollars on upkeep, while enrollment in popular summer programs failed to balance the books. “How can we make this not a financial drain? We’re committed to finding a solution that carries on a tradition. Change is hard for everyone,” she acknowledged.

Braus has visited Hog Island many times and said it’s a life-changing experience. She said no donors have come forward to infuse cash into the programs. “I think we have gained an ally with Camp Kieve,” she said, adding, “I was sad no (donor) stepped forward.”

Henry Kennedy, third-generation camp director at Kieve, said he is excited about partnering with Audubon: “Kieve’s niche has been as leaders in character education, in part since our neighbors down the road at Chewonki (a camp and school in Wiscasset) do such great work in environmental education; it makes good sense not to duplicate resources, but we’ve always done our best to foster kids’ curiosity about their surroundings as well. When people feel more confident about themselves, they have a natural tendency to take better care of the people and world around them, especially when armed with the right knowledge and role models. What better way to achieve that goal for thousands of people a year then a Kieve/Audubon partnership?”

Hog Island, a short boat trip from the mainland, is about ten miles from Kieve’s campus on Damariscotta Lake. Said Kennedy: “It makes great sense for two non-profits with such similar missions and passions who literally abut one another geographically to share resources in these trying times.”

Bos Savage, property manager for Maine Audubon, said he is convinced that both sides will benefit through a land transfer, although no money is expected to change hands. Savage said Kieve’s takeover could enable Hog Island “to carry on as an environmental program site. Maine Audubon has tried very hard to play a real role (in negotiations).” Savage said that a consultant’s search revealed “a limited number of choices of who might partner with National Audubon. I think Camp Kieve is dedicated to weaving more environmental education into its curriculum. We’re comfortable with that.”

Ted Koffman, Maine Audubon’s director, said he hopes the partnership with Kieve will enable Hog Island to become sustainable. He said this past summer’s Audubon programs, conducted by Steve Kress of the Cornell ornithology lab, were successful and that such programs could continue in spring and fall-when birds migrate-under Kieve’s ownership.

Native Americans dug clams on the shores of Hog Island until driven off by European settlers who in the 1600s allegedly purchased the island, apparently to raise hogs. White pines were cut down for ship’s spars. In 1908, Mabel and David Todd acquired Hog Island to prevent overgrazing of pastures and clear-cutting of timber. The Todds built a summer cottage at one end of the island, now in decay. Their daughter Millicent worked with John Baker, then head of National Audubon, to establish that group’s first educational center, also known as Todd Wildlife Sanctuary.

A sail loft on the other end of the island, and a large frame house and dormitory, remain part of a cluster of rustic Audubon camp buildings. National Audubon turned over that portion of the property to Maine Audubon in 2000, while retaining title to most of the undeveloped island. The simple, shared bathroom aspects of the camp were upgraded to a higher comfort level with the hope of attracting more paying guests, but apparently those renovations have not eased the financial burden for Audubon.

The letter to National Audubon from Mid-coast Audubon board members concludes: “Hog Island holds a special place in the hearts of all those who have spent time on it. We trust that it will remain under the aegis of National Audubon, that Audubon programs will continue on the island, and that any legal changes would be transparent.”

Audubon officials expect negotiations with Kieve to be completed in the next few months. Hog Island celebrates its 75th year as a study center for birders in 2011.

Road Scholar seabird and service session concludes 2010 season

The final Audubon Camp in Maine session for the 2010 season was titled ‘Maine Seabird Biology and Conservation’. This service learning program was a collaborative venture with Road Scholar (formerly Elderhostel). It represents the strengths of combining the on the ground seabird management of Project Puffin with the power of 32 people — motivated to not only learn about seabird biology, but participate in direct conservation actions.

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The group assembled on Hog Island on Sunday, Sept. 19 for the five day program. This was the second Road Scholar program at Hog Island this summer. Like the late May-early June program which focused on censusing nesting seabirds, this program connected eager volunteers with service projects that required many helping hands.

Hog Island volunteers raise a sign for the Cruickshank Wildlife Sanctuary

Like other sessions this summer, this group represented every corner of the country — 16 states in total. Ages ranged from 52-75 and included a great diversity of semi and retired professionals. All actively participated in the program. In addition to the registered participants, eight members of FOHI (Friends of Hog Island) volunteered their time to assist in the kitchen and join in on the field projects.

The group was fortunate to have exceptionally good weather, even though mid September is typically one of Maine’s best weeks for outdoor activities. Flat calm seas prevailed for the first two days with temperatures in the 70’s — ideal for landing the entire group on Eastern Egg Rock. Once ashore the group divided into four teams that set about various projects that included:

  • Cutting overgrown vegetation from the artificial puffin burrows that once housed Newfoundland puffin chicks and digging new entrances to adapt them for Leach’s storm-petrel nesting. Soon fifty burrows were restored and ready for storm-petrels to nest next summer.
  • Pulling abandoned lobster traps from seabird nesting habitat. Past storms had tossed the traps onto the island creating danger for nesting seabirds. Two black guillemots and a laughing gull were found entangled in the traps, tragic reminders about the issue of entanglement. By the end of the 2nd day, more than 50 lobster traps were pulled out of the nesting habitat and several hundred abandoned buoys and other plastics were collected.
  • Removing vegetation from the Allan D. Cruickshank sanctuary sign, repainting the letters and re-installing it with new posts.
  • Clearing vegetation from overgrown Common and Roseate Tern habitat and installing outdoor carpet mats to serve as weed barriers, thus creating new habitat for these threatened seabirds. About 200 square meters of new habitat resulted.

The 32 participants donated more than 200 hours of work to help the Egg Rock seabirds. The equipment to cut the vegetation and purchase the weed barrier was provided by a grant from NAWCA (North American Wetland Conservation Act) administered by the U.S. Fish and wildlife Service and LL Bean.

When advance winds from Hurricane Igor made landings unsuitable at Egg Rock for the remainder of the week, the group happily turned their service inclinations to entering seabird data on Project Puffin computers, cutting invasive barberry shrubs and scraping and painting window trim on Hog Island buildings! In addition to the service projects, the group found time to visit many local birding hotspots and hear lectures on backyard landscaping for birds from Stephen Kress and bird migration from Scott Wiedensaul.

There’s always a rainbow at Hog Island

Juanita helps clear debris from Eastern Egg Rock during September service session

Do you remember being at Audubon camp on Hog Island for the first time and hearing a strange word dropped into conversations and introductions – “fowee” “fohigh”. What did it mean? At the end of the session, you realized it was one of those delightful acronyms, which have become part of our lexicon, meaning Friends of Hog Island (FOHI).

Do you remember, too, how when you left you were eager to continue receiving news about an island that held special meaning and made you smile when you thought about it?

Well, we have good news! Friends of Hog Island formally formed in 1998 will shortly become a 501(c)(3) nonprofit group. You will be able to support your beloved island and buildings directly. Friends once again have heeded the call to assure Hog Island’s future.

The recent Road Scholar (formerly Elderhostel) service program at Hog and the subsequent FOHI workweek to close up the camp produced fertile discussion and positive actions. Concerned over the closing of the camp in 2009 owing to lack of funds, the participants and FOHI sought positive solutions and came up with reconstituting FOHI as a 501(c)(3) with the goal of providing an annual supplementary income stream for the camp.

A board is currently being formed with Juanita Roushdy, a FOHI who moved from North Carolina to just up the road from Hog Island, as President; Kenn Kaufman, noted author and Hog Island instructor, Scott Weidensaul, Hog Island instructor, nature writer, and dedicated FOHI; Steve Kress, Director of Project Puffin and the person responsible for the cost-covering programs this year; David Klinger, a former president of FOHI and long-time friend of Hog; Gaye Phillips, another dedicated and long-time FOHI who comes each year from Dallas Texas with her husband, Robert, for the FOHI work weeks.

Now that’s good news! So, here is some more.

Where do FOHI’s get their energy? This is a question asked by many. September 19-24 was the first-ever FOHI workweek to close up the camp, and energy surged.

In 5 days, 16 FOHIs stripped beds, washed linens; vacuumed and swept all buildings; put away furniture; scraped and painted outdoor trim; glazed windows; primed and painted the new rooms in the Crow’s Nest; removed screens on all buildings; put up winter shutters; and completed a myriad other winterizing tasks., including kitchen duties.

But perhaps the most gratifying and most demanding task was removing and cutting up a gargantuan pile of lobster traps and other marine debris from Eastern Egg Rock. Sally Sanderson, a FOHI volunteer, upon seeing the pile on the rocks thought to herself, “there’s no way we’re going to be able to remove all of that in one trip.” Three hours later, 7 FOHIs and Eric and Sue’s Herculean efforts in rowing the trash-laden dory back and forth had cleared the island and left it once again ready for next year’s nesting.

Although we didn’t see a rainbow during the workweek, the good humor and beaming smiles made up for it.

Keep an eye out for more news of FOHI as it moves forward and be part of this wonderful energy that the Audubon Camp at Hog Island nurtures.

Juanita is a full-time resident of Bremen, ME and lives just up the road from Hog Island. She is currently on the board of Audubon North Carolina and founded and was president of the Cape Fear Audubon Society in Wilmington, NC. During her professional career she was Senior Editor and later Director of Community Relations at the International Monetary Fund in Washington, D.C. She’s an active volunteer, birder, and conservationist.

The camp that changes people’s lives

When I arrived on Hog Island in June of 1980 to begin my first summer teaching adults about weather, geology, and environmental issues, I was an inexperienced environmental educator, fresh out of graduate school. Teaching those classes for the first time was a huge challenge, but with help from Mike Shannon, Steve Kress, Grace Bommarito and others, I slowly climbed aboard. Despite my struggle and focus on preparing for my responsibilities, the legendary “magic” of Hog Island worked its way into my intermost cells and soon I was completely hooked. Getting me off that island would become as difficult as coaxing a hermit crab out of its shell.

Twenty years and thousands of people later, I believe as strongly as ever that an experience at camp changes people’s lives.

During the early 1980’s, each ecology camp session lasted for two weeks. I could see, day by day, the wondrous effect upon campers living on that forested and tide-washed bit of heaven, seemingly miles away from the noisy civilization they left behind. People loosened up, got some color in their cheeks, and took time too smell the salt air and watch the antics of a feisty red squirrel or the slothlike behavior of a porcupine munching apples. A deep sense of appreciation and often times reverence grew with each day spent in the out-of-doors, in the company of kindred spirits.

I especially remember one young couple I met my first summer, who later wrote to say they had quit their professional jobs and had gone back to school for environmental studies. Twenty years and thousands of people later, I believe as strongly as ever that an experience at camp changes people’s lives. Stories like the couple changing careers, I eventually came to see, were commonly repeated. It’s painfully obvious that our world dearly needs these kind, committed, and environmentally-conscious human beings.

Friends of Hog Island has the kind of passionate and inspired alumni to draw upon that most organizations could only dream about. Let us rally together now to finally create a well-fashioned, long-lasting, and financially-vigorous structure for the enhancement and continuation of a camp that changes people’s lives.

Isn’t this the mission of Audubon?