LEWISTON – As a half dozen children searched through trays of wet leaves, Susan Hayward was shining a flashlight on muck.

With a net and rubber boots, she was deep into the murky business of finding fly nymphs and dragonfly larvae. The fact it was growing dark only raised her excitement as night time would bring on the peepers, another draw for this Stanton Bird Club field trip.

Despite its name, the long-lived Stanton Bird Club is about more than birds.

The club has 240 members, dozens of nature trips a year, and two large preserves its volunteers help protect and maintain.

Today some members think the 92-year-old organization should revamp its image or change its name to end old misconceptions that it’s literally, for the birds.

“A lot of us would just like to have the name Stanton Club. Back when it started, it was more like a social club and teens and adults dressed in their finest clothes. They would picnic and play music, and even then it was free,” said Alan Seamans, a trip leader, about the club’s start almost a century ago.

The club was founded in 1919, and after Bates professor Jonathan Stanton of Lewiston donated 45 acres in 1921 it became a Lewiston mainstay as a naturalist presence.

Its 357 acres is a nature sanctuary, Thorncrag Sanctuary, was created and preserved the past century as a respite for wildlife, where it can be enjoyed. The club also owns and manages another 160 acres in Monmouth at the Woodbury Bird Sanctuary.

Thorncrag Sanctuary has gone through a few evolutions as it fell into disrepair and then was rejuvenated with the attention and care of the club’s members.

Today the preserve — just 3 miles from the heart of Lewiston — is ripe with critters from porcupines to weasels, deer, and bullfrogs.

But misconceptions about the land steward that cares for this urban woodland persist.

Heather Runnels of Auburn joined the local club for a recent field trip, but only after years of wondering about the mission of the Stanton Bird Club.

Runnels thought the club was for ornithologists. She brought her 6-year-old daughter, Adeline, on a field trip two weeks ago after friending the group on Facebook and discovering its events were free.

“I didn’t realize the group was open to the public. I thought it required a membership. I was very excited to see that we are welcome,” Runnels said. “It’s a nice surprise to find such a different environment right near downtown. It’s so peaceful, and such a beautiful spot.”

Linda Seamans, who is on the club’s board of directors, said Facebook has helped the club connect with like-minded outdoor folks in their community. Runnels is only one example.

Still, the club’s 92-year-old name may be holding it back.

“We’ve discussed changing the name. But I don’t think we will, because of the (tradition). But there are misconceptions about who supports Thorncrag, people sometimes think Bates (College) or (the city of) Lewiston,” Linda Seamans said.

The club has had to face the challenges of expanding, changing and evolving.

Upgrades to the keystone preserve, such as a parking lot and kiosk, were made in recent years in an effort to welcome the public, Seamans said.

But while the club members want others to enjoy the preserve, it turned into a dog park.

After balancing user enjoyment with the mission of the preserve, the club’s board decided last October to forbid dogs in the preserve .

“That was difficult for our members to close it to dogs. But since then people have seen weasels, deer, woodpeckers,” Linda Seamans said. “And it’s private property, no different than Pineland Farms or Maine Audubon.”

But the club’s open-door policy extends to the public — and its members are hoping word gets out.

The lessons on nature are about more than birds, open to all, and as they were 92 years ago, free of charge.

“You don’t really get anything for the membership.

“The field trips are free; the newsletter is online; the preserve is free,” trip guide Alan Seamans said. 

Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at:

[email protected]