School programs gearing up at Maine Wildlife Park and Swan Island

With school starting again, it’s time to make reservations for exciting fall field trips to learn about wildlife and history through first-hand experiences at Swan Island and the Maine Wildlife Park in Gray.

Photo by Aislinn Sarnacki. A goose rests in the shallows of a pond on May 4, 2012, at Maine Wildlife Park in Gray.

Both destinations offer numerous wildlife programs and tours at affordable prices for students of all ages.

“We had a record breaking spring 2012 in terms of attendance and are looking forward to welcoming new and returning faces to our many upcoming wildlife programs this fall,” said Wildlife Educator Coordinator Lisa Kane in a recent press release.

Swan Island, in the Kennebec River off Richmond, is often called an island from another century and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Six homes dating back to 1763 are on the island, as well as two cemeteries, 10 log lean-tos, open fields, woods, wetlands and tidal mud flats. A wealth of wildlife species also call the island home, including nesting bald eagles, deer, wild turkeys, beavers, waterfowls, songbirds and more.

A fall day trip to Swan Island is a great way to bring a new class together, reunite an existing class, learn about Maine history and wildlife and enjoy the foliage while having the island to yourself.

On the island, wildlife and conservation education programs are offered on Mondays and Wednesdays at 10 a.m. Programs focus on different topics such as endangered and threatened species, Maine state symbols, predators, eagles, owls, big cats, beavers and more. Wildlife programs are $5 per person and can accommodate groups of 15 to 60 people.

After the program, students and teachers can eat lunch on the campground, take a hike on a nature trail, investigate a cemetery or the oldest house on the island and enjoy the beauty of the Kennebec River.

For school groups interested in visiting the island, full scholarships for 200 students (a $5 per child value) are available now due to a grant from the Merrymeeting Bay Trust. To learn about the island or to download a teacher background and activity packet, go to www.maine.gov/swanisland.

Maine Wildlife Park, located on Route 26 in Gray, is also a popular destination for school field trips, and fall is the perfect time to visit; That’s when moose and deer have huge sets of antlers, all the animals have grown in their winter coats and the weather is cool and crisp with no bugs. More than 30 species native to Maine or once living in Maine are on exhibit.

Wildlife and conservation education programs are offered by Inland Fisheries and Wildlife staff on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 10 a.m. and 11 a.m. during September and October. During the programs, students can learn about wild turkeys, black bears, native turtles or even meet a live bald eagle.

Guided tours are also available for students in first grade and higher and are conducted by knowledgeable staff and/or park volunteers. Tours can be scheduled Monday through Friday and generally run between 1 hour and 1.5 hours. Reservations must be made by calling 287-5244. The fee for programs and guided tours are $5 per person and include general park admission.

School groups are also welcome to visit the park on their own without reservations and teachers can download a free teacher packet for educational activities to do at the park. To see the fall 2012 schedule for both the Maine Wildlife Park and Swan Island, to download the free teacher packet or to get information about the programs, go to www.maine.gov/ifw/education/schoolprograms/index.htm  or e-mail Lisa.Kane@maine.gov.

 

Aislinn Sarnacki

About Aislinn Sarnacki

Professionally, Aislinn is a Bangor Daily News reporter for the "Outdoor" and "Living" pages. She's a wilderness romper and fashion-forward bookworm.