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EDUCATION, ENVIRONMENT

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October 27, 2010
Article

Audubon turning Hog Island over to Camp Kieve

by Steve Cartwright

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

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.

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

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