Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Swan Island Field Trip

Last week we went on a field trip to Swan Island located off the shoreline in Richmond on the Kennebec River. We were actually suppose to take this trip in May but were unable to secure a boat to take our homeschooling group across. Then we were rained out - twice. We ended up going on an absolutely gorgeous fall afternoon. We were the only people on the island.

We attended a class on Maine State Symbols taught by a biologist with the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. These are the same educators that do classes at the Maine Wildlife Park in Gray. This was a fantastic class and one we hadn't done before.

Our educator started out by giving a history of the island first. Swan Island was originally named Swango by the Abenaki due to the large amount of eagles that nested on the island. Swango is the Abenaki word for eagle. Thousands of eagles have nested on Swan Island over the last 500 years. There is still a nesting pair there today.

A ship captain built the first home on the southern tip of the island. The Abenaki were not happy about this at all and eventually attacked the homestead. They killed the animals, burned the buildings, and kidnapped some of the people living there (the captain's grown daughter, her husband, and their children). They brought them to Quebec where they were sold into slavery.

Then we went through all the state symbols. It was pretty interesting. Some I knew, but many I did not. Our educator had a visual for each. The class was briefly interrupted by a Great Blue Heron strolling across the lawn outside.

Learning about the state flag and motto
Official state "flower" - white pine cone
State bird - Chickadee 
State fish - landlocked salmon  
State insect - honeybee

After the class was done (it was about 90 minutes), we had free run of the island for the next few hours. We ate our lunch and then began to explore. There were some great hiking paths. There were once 27 houses and 100 people who lived on the island. Some of the houses still stand (five to be exact) and IF&W is working to restore them and maintain the ones still there. 

When the Great Depression hit, many people left the island to find work. Their houses fell into disrepair and fell down. Many, however, burned their houses when they left as they didn't want anyone else to use them. 

One of the buildings on the island

My sister joined us on this trip. Our three boys.
It wasn't cold enough to warrant my nephew's hat, but he wore it all the same. 

The path we opted to take took us along the river. It went through the woods and was pretty peaceful. Of the roughly 50 homeschoolers on this trip, we were only a very few who went this route. Our end point was the island's cemetery. 

Once we arrived here, we still had time for a longer walk so we headed down a dirt road. There was a wildlife viewing station at the end. Many opted to go there instead of the route we took, but it was over a mile away so we didn't have time to do that walk with two toddlers in tow. Although, Mr. T spent most of our walk like this:

This was a huge meadow that is maintained as a meadow. Otherwise it would quickly become overgrown with trees. The photo doesn't do it justice. It was wonderful. I'm sure with all the leaves that have now turned color, it's even more beautiful.

You can only access Swan Island by boat. There are no bridges connecting it to the mainland. You can kayak or canoe to it on your own or get there via boats through IF&W. You can also camp on the island. I didn't take any photos but they have shelters on the island with a sleeping platform, fire pit, and picnic table as well as plenty of space for tents. 

This truck took us from the boat launch to the education area. 
All of us were packed into the back as they only wanted to make one trip. This was the highlight of the day for most of the kids. 

My middle son photobombing.

This was a really fun day. We all learned something - I was furiously taking notes on the history of the island on my phone. We had never visited Swan Island before. I have to say it was one of my favorites so far this year.

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