This past weekend, Audubon Hog Island Camp, on Muscongus Bay in Maine – one of the most wonderful, successful, and, to our family, personally enriching and warmly memorable, environmental education facilities in America – celebrated its 75th anniversary. In the summer of 2007, my middle daughter, then 17, was awarded an Audubon Society Scholarship to a Hog Island residential camp. Always an outdoorsy child but only cautiously adventurous, Hog Island was her first – and only – “sleep away” camp. For ten days, she would bunk with other high schoolers from around the country and learn about birds, and local ecology.
For those ten days, the rest of us journeyed around coastal Maine, touring lighthouses, geocaching in fragrant balsam forests,
exploring Acadia National Park, and a variety of scenic and historical areas. We fell in love with Maine. Our daughter fell in love with birds. We all fell in love with Hog Island.
Our daughter came back confident, excited, and an avid birder. She started a blog – Earthbird: Diary of a Teenage Birder- which
eventually became the diary of a college birder. She wrote an article for the Audubon Society about her experience at Hog Island: Summer Camp Salute , and wrote her college essay about how Hog Island set her on the path to both environmental and self-discovery. She headed to college with fresh focus, new ideas, and a yen for travel that has since taken her to London, Wales and Ireland for a semester, and to Puerto Rico for service learning projects.
This summer, her final summer before she starts her senior year at Eckerd College, where she’s an Environmental Studies and Anthropology major, she interned at Shaver’s Creek , the nature center of Penn State. Among other things, she worked with the Raptor Center there , coming full circle on her journey from fledgling birder to bird of prey handler. Midway through the summer, she journeyed to Tuscson, AZ to join 79 other students from around the nation as a Udall Scholar, which recognizes young leaders in environmental fields.
As much as all of this is a tribute to my daughter’s own drive, curiosity and interest in the world around her, it is equally a tribute to the place that set her mind afire in first place. On Hog Island, my daughter walked in the footsteps of some of the nation’s leading environmentalists, scientists and naturalists, including Roger Tory Peterson, Rachel Carson and Dr. Stephen Kress. Since 1936, campers have experienced the transformative beauty, abundant wildlife and deep serenity of Muscongus Bay under the studied guidance of teachers like Peterson and renowned birder Kenn Kaufman, who turned my daughter’s eyes heavenward.
Environmental education in the classroom is one thing. Experiencing the living wonders of a place as rich in beauty and biodiversity as Hog Island, and rich, as well, in the people who understand it and eagerly share its wonders with others, is something else entirely.
Author Scott Weidensau said of Hog Island, “Hog Island takes hold of you. There are many beautiful places, but this one will change your life.“
Our daughter would probably agree. I know we certainly do! Happy Birthday, Hog Island!