Maine Wildlife Park and Swan Island |
By Lisa Kane
The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife operates 2 wildlife and conservation education facilities for the public to enjoy – the Maine Wildlife Park in Gray and Swan Island in the Kennebec River in Richmond. Both have made tremendous improvements in the last several years, and if you haven’t visited either recently, they are worth putting on your summer or fall field trip schedule this year!
The Maine Wildlife Park (still called the ‘Game Farm’ or ‘Gray Animal Farm’) now sees over 106,000 visitors a season. With over 30 species of native Maine wildlife on exhibit in natural settings, the Park has made major improvements to the wildlife enclosures, interpretive signage, buildings and grounds. In addition to the wildlife - the main attraction - the Park features a Visitor Center, Nature Store, Warden Museum, wildlife gardens throughout the grounds, a large picnic and grilling area, and a Snack Shack operated by the Friends of the Wildlife Park. The adjacent Dry Mills Fish Hatchery, popular for the 10,000 brook trout in the recently rebuilt round pond, has created a new interpretive building and signage to inform the public about hatchery and stocking programs.
If visiting relatives really want to see a moose, the wildlife park currently has 2 bulls and 2 cows. They are undoubtedly the most popular animals at the park. However, the bears, fisher, big cats, foxes, eagles, owls, turtles and trout are all at the top of many lists. Visit our web page to learn more at www.mainewildlifepark.com or find us on Facebook.
Special events are scheduled at the wildlife park nearly every weekend from May through September. Bring a picnic and spend the day!
Swan Island, also called the Steve Powell Wildlife Management Area, (WMA), is a 1755-acre WMA in the Kennebec River between Dresden and Richmond. This unique property combines a distinctive history with gorgeous scenery and abundant wildlife.
Long known for its white-tailed deer population, the island also hosts a number of bald eagles, wild turkeys, waterfowl, songbirds, small mammals and, at times, even a moose or a seal! Stripers, sturgeon, and largemouth bass are plentiful in the surrounding Kennebec, while a stocked trout pond is available to kids under 16 on the island, tackle provided! Wildlife photographers will find great opportunities here, while ‘scenery searchers’ will be well rewarded with beautiful vistas from along the central 4-mile long dirt road, the wildlife viewing tower and the southern tip of Theobald Point.
Camping, hiking, and mountain biking are all available here too, so you may spend a couple of days exploring. Modern restrooms and 10 Adirondack-style shelters are available. New this year, kayaks and canoes are available to rent for a nominal fee. Even though Swan Island is only 20 minutes south of the capital city of Augusta, once ‘on-Island’, you will feel like you are well into the willy-wags! This is a great family get-away, especially for newer campers.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the island has 5 standing homes dating back to the 1700s. New interpretive signage provides detailed information about each of these homes. The Tubbs-Reed house, the 1st you might encounter, is open to the public on select days and is filled with period furniture and other artifacts remaining from island life 100-200 years ago.
A brand new and much larger ferry takes Island passengers, by reservation only, either directly across the river to the west side landing, or around the northern tip of the Island to the new east side float and ramp at the campground. Personal canoes or kayaks may self-access Swan Island without reservations, but must deposit the day rate admission fee into iron rangers located at both landings.
Special events are offered on and around Swan Island on several days throughout the summer and fall. Visit the web page to learn more at www.maine.gov/swanisland or find us on Facebook!
Wildlife and conservation education programs and tours are offered to school groups, homeschoolers, day camps, scouts and others throughout the season at the Park and Island. Over 2100 children participated in a variety of wildlife programming in May and June on field trips at both facilities from schools far and wide. Scholarships to Swan Island school programs were made available through a generous grant from the Merrymeeting Bay Trust; while the Friends of the Wildlife Park provided for some at the park as well. Education programs are again offered in September and October at both facilities. FMI: http://www.maine.gov/ifw/education/schools_teachers/field_trips.htm
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