Wetland watermark: There’s a giant duck hidden on a St. John River isle

A duck roughly the size of two football fields has been existing largely undetected on an island in the St. John River for quite some time.

Located on Long Island, an eight-kilometre-long island nestled between Wickham and Hampstead, the duck carved into a marsh takes the form of the Ducks Unlimited logo.

At more than 150 metres, or 500 feet, across the duck is visible from online mapping programs, like Google Maps, but it’s been around for so long that when it was built it was only visible from aircraft.

“We built in in 1988,” said Geoff Harding of Ducks Unlimited, who helped create the symbol more than three decades ago. “It was the 50th anniversary of Ducks Unlimited in Canada.

“We wanted to come up with a unique kind of symbol, so we decided to do that giant kind of duck head, our logo symbol out in the middle of the marsh,” said Harding, who is the head of major projects for Ducks Unlimited in Atlantic Canada.

The duck was etched into one of two marshy lakes on Long Island, which was once settled by Acadians around the 1750s, according to Ducks Unlimited, but is now used today mostly for farming with a few crops and cattle grazing. It was created while the conservation group was on the island for a managed wetland project.

“It was all surveyed out the way you would layout a highway with a big, long, sweeping curve,” said Harding, adding a dragline excavator was used to carve the duck outline. “And it went along and basically excavated the shape out.”

Built in 1988, the duck celebrates Ducks Unlmited’s 50th anniversary and dedicated to Arthur Irving for his service as their president in 1986 and 1987. 0:58

The cleared waterway makes the shape of the logo. For the last 32 years, the vegetation hasn’t grown back with the exception of a portion of the duck’s forehead.

“It’s amazing how it’s retained its shape over this length of time,” said Harding.

Billionaire’s Duck

Once the logo was completed in 1988, it was dedicated to Arthur Irving, the New Brunswick billionaire and owner of Irving Oil Ltd., for his service as the president of Ducks Unlimited Canada during 1986 and 1987. According to Harding, a monument is also placed at the base of the Long Island symbol.

CBC News requested an interview with Irving about the massive duck but did not receive a reply.

According to New Brunswick property records, the land the duck is etched on belongs to Arctic Falcon Limited, a corporation owned by Arthur Irving.

Wetlands watermark

Long Island doesn’t just host the large duck head, but it’s also the site of marshes managed by Ducks Unlimited as well as a bird-banding research program. According to materials from the conservation project, “nesting towers for osprey have also been installed to compensate for the annual loss of large trees for nesting by these birds.”

But when asked if what could be considered a vanity project would have an impact on wildlife, Ducks Unlimited was doubtful.

“No, I don’t believe so,” said Frank Merrill, a Ducks Unlimited program specialist. “In fact, it could provide habitat for waterfowl and other wildlife because within the coverage of the vegetation you’ve got some open water there to provide a diverse habitat for different wildlife species.”

And now more than three decades later they are considering returning to the island to fix up the logo a bit where it has become overgrown.

“We’ve been discussing this as of late, actually,” said Merrill. “The duck head has grown in a bit so we’re looking at options right now whether we need to go in and clean it up a little bit and return it to what it was originally. So, at the moment we’re deciding and kind of figuring out what we should do with it and how we should proceed.”

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