Things to See and Do

deer on swan island

Swan Island's attraction is the unique combination of wildlife and history. Located only 20 minutes south of the capitol city of Augusta, it is a quaint agricultural landscape where time seems to stand still. The island is rich with history.

Large forested areas dotted with open fields and small wetlands attract plentiful wildlife. We hope you will come and enjoy the island through one of the many nature seeking activities that we encourage.

Many visitors enjoy hiking the miles of nature trails (download trail map (PDF)) or mountain biking the central dirt road. Those liking to combine nature and technology can find many geocaches in the local area, and even one on the island. A leisurely stroll about the island is enjoyed by bird and wildlife watchers, photographers, and even plenair painters. Kayaking or canoeing is a great way to arrive at the campground or to enjoy the spectacular scenery and wildlife around Merrymeeting Bay and the shores of Swan Island. The Kennebec River has excellent smallmouth bass and striped-bass fishing.

Of course the best way to end a fun filled day or extend your exploration is by camping overnight on the island.

To plan your visit checkout the visitor season, fees, and how to make reservations.

Camping

The only thing better than a day on Swan island is camping overnight. Each of the island's 10 campsites has a fireplace next to a three-sided lean-to, or Adirondack Shelter, which sleeps up to six. The lean-tos are open to the air; so many visitors choose to pitch a tent in the vicinity of their shelter. Water and restroom facilities for campers are also available at the campground. Campsites are spread out for privacy and sit at the edge of a grassy field overlooking Little Swan island and the Kennebec River. All Camping is by reservation only (See Season & Fees) Come relax and enjoy the night life on Swan Island.

History

Many theories exist as to where the name Swan Island came from but the most likely seems to be that it's a further adulterated version of "Sowangan" which roughly means Bald Eagle in the Abenaki language. No doubt Native Americans were the first to spend time upon the island and likely recognized it as a place where there were many Bald Eagles. The earliest recorded European visitors came in 1607 when Captain John Smith visited the Kennebec Indians on the island. Over the next 150 years or so very few changes occurred on the island. Beginning in the latter half of the 18th century colonists became established on the island. Among other notable visitors, 1775 saw a visit by Benedict Arnold's expedition on the way to attack Quebec.

In June of 1847 Swan Island legally separated from Dresden to incorporate as Perkins. This designation remained until 1918 when the population decreased to the point where insufficient numbers of residents were available to fill town offices. Perkins disincorporated and became Perkins Township as it is legally known today.

At its peak the island boasted around 100 residents and a vibrant community supported by farming, fishing, ice-cutting, and shipbuilding. Times changed and many factors came together at around the time of the great depression causing a rapid depopulation of the island. By the early 1940's Maine Department of Fish and Wildlife began to acquire the island piece by piece as a place to manage waterfowl and other wildlife. By the early 1950's the only remaining private land was a cemetery which was subsequently willed to the department in 1988.

Stephen Powell was the island's first biologist and resided on the island for many years. He carried out numerous game management and research activities in cooperation with others.

Today the island is managed for a variety of wildlife and enjoyed by many visitors each season. Several of the historic homesteads still stand. The cemetery and landscape along with old stone walls and other remnants stand testament to the islands rich history.

Swan Island truly is "the island forgotten in time".

Wildlife

eagle in tree

Swan Island is well known for a variety of wildlife. The island, Little Swan Island, and surrounding tidal flats are a Wildlife Management Area. This means the primary purpose of the area is to conserve and manage the land for wildlife habitat while allowing recreational use of the area.

Situated at the head of Merrymeeting Bay the island has historically been a stronghold for Bald Eagles. It was instrumental in recovery of the species. Today there are three nesting pairs that call the island home. Hundreds of acres of old fields are maintained and managed for a variety of bird species. These grasslands also benefit many of the forest dwelling animals and birds as well. The variety of woods and fields including old apple orchards are used by the many whitetail deer roaming the island. Once extirpated from Maine, wild turkeys are now abundant and have returned to Swan Island as well. The island's shoreline and mudflats are a key component of Merrymeeting Bay's estuarine landscape that help sustain countless waterfowl, wading-birds, shorebirds, and water dependent animals. Shortnose sturgeon are often seen leaping high in the water over the Kennebec River and countless other fish swim quietly beneath the surface.

Come observe and be delighted by the scenic beauty of Swan Island.

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