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Runtrails' 2005 AT Journal
 
 
Previous          Journal Topics by Date            Next
 
 
PHOTOS 36: SWAMP THINGS       
 
APRIL 3, 2006
 
 
" . . . I know it's hard when you're up to your armpits in alligators
to remember you came here to drain the swamp."
 
- former President Ronald Reagan, February 10, 1982
 
 


A typical Maine bog, Day 131.  (Yes, that is the Trail, and those rotting, rounded logs are very narrow!)

Whether you agreed with his politics or not, President Reagan did have a way with words!

I'm not sure if he originated this quote, because I've heard other versions. Or maybe other folks modified his quote later on . . .

Fortunately, there were no threats of alligators in any of the swamps through which I walked (it's very difficult to RUN in a swamp) along the Appalachian Trail.

I'm not sure WHAT all was in the various types of wetlands I crossed, however.

I had enough trouble staying on the bog boards, even the stable ones, that I didn't look too hard for critters in the water or deep grasses. I was more concerned about getting all wet and mucky than getting eaten alive by Swamp Things.

I'd like to share a passage I found during a web search on swamps because the author explains the mysteries and beauty of swamps better than I can. Although it comes from the international magazine of the Turks and Caicos Islands, Times of the Islands, these lines are also descriptive of most any wetland you'll find on the Appalachian Trail:

SWAMP THINGS
Story & Photos by Kathleen McNary Wood

What is in a swamp? The very name conjures up images of foul smelling things that threaten to make your skin itch, creatures that make strange noises in the night, and thick, black muck that you could literally lose yourself in.

Swamps contain mysterious things that are loathsome, smelly, beautiful, and compelling all at the same time.

In technical terms, a swamp is any area, dominated by a particular species of tree, that is partially or completely inundated with water for all or a portion of the year. But from an existential point of view, the cabalistic swamp is nature's magic brew from which any possible combination of flower or creature may spring . . .

. . . In spite of endless hours of scientific investigation, swamps remain a largely unexplored and mysterious entity where creatures and plants yet to be discovered still exist. Their value as flood controls, watersheds, and ecological epicenters is just beginning to be understood.

On a planet that is ever-increasingly conforming to the will of the human spirit, these areas may be a last refuge for Mother Nature to have her way . . .

I have a pretty wide vocabulary, but must admit I had to look up the word cabalistic. No, I'm not going to give you the definition! <grin>

In this essay I'll try to give you a good picture, so to speak, of the variety of wet areas along the Appalachian Trail. I took some of the photos while precariously balancing on my nemeses - those wobbly, slick bog boards.

Most of the swamps were quite scenic, and each one intrigued me.

I'll include several kinds of wetlands: forested and grassy swamps and marshes, bogs in sub-alpine and alpine regions, and even one "soupy" place that was full of mud and water after recent rains.

You can see more bog and swamp photos in Photos 8 (bog boards), Photos 35 (fields of wildflowers), and the referenced daily journal entries. I'll use as many new photos here as possible.

LET'S BEGIN THE SWAMP TOUR . . .

My first photographic evidence of a wet area came in the Davis Valley on Day 34 in Virginia just north of the I-81 crossing at Groseclose:

That one's not too menacing! I was happy that many of the wet areas had beautiful flowers like these.

I don't remember any other wetlands until I reached New Jersey. The Trail corridor gets progressively wetter as you head north, culminating in Maine, definitely the state with the most water-per-mile of any of the fourteen states through which hikers pass.

The first "real" swamp northbound AT hikers approach is Rattlesnake Swamp, which lies a few miles past Sunfish Pond in the valley north of Kittatinny Mountain. A side trail (that I didn't take) goes through this swamp.

The next morning (Day 90) when I began my run at the Millbrook-Blairsville Road, I took several photos of this swampy unnamed pond, which looked unlike any I'd seen so far on the AT:

The next day I came to my first major bog boards and swamps right on the Trail in:

NEW JERSEY'S "DROWNED LANDS"

The AT generally runs in a northeast-southwest direction, but there is one place along the New Jersey-New York state line where it runs mostly north-south. If you are going northbound, in this section you're actually heading SOUTH. It lies between High Point State Park and Bearfort Mountain.

This section has a second distinction: it runs right through New Jersey's "drowned lands," so called because of floods that regularly inundated the fields of early Dutch settlers and made farming difficult. This is swamp country, the product of the last Ice Age when glacial activity left rich deposits of sediment in the valleys at the foot of ridges scraped nearly clean by the ice.

I spent parts of two days going through this area. On Day 91 (July 29, 2005), I hiked through Vernie Swamp and the Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge. The next day I was amazed and delighted with the relatively new section through the Pochuck Quagmire, an ugly name for such a beautiful place!

All three wet areas were very interesting, with numerous dragonflies, butterflies, and other insects, dozens of kinds of birds, flowers and other lush plants, and more bog bridges ("puncheon") than you can count - 2/10ths of a mile in Vernie Swamp, 4/10ths of a mile at the refuge, and a mile through the Pochuck Swamp..

Let's start with Vernie Swamp, located near Unionville Road:

Here are those beautiful tall verbena-like purple flowers again, which I think are purple loosestrife. If so, they are invasive and can destroy the balance of nature in wetlands.

There are over a hundred bog bridges in Vernie Swamp. Beaver activity caused so much flooding on the AT that volunteers had to elevate the bridging, as shown below, to compensate. I really appreciated that, because in several of the states north of New Jersey there were places where the boards were under water and difficult to cross.

A few miles later that afternoon I walked and ran through the Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge, the only federal wildlife refuge on the Appalachian Trail. The AT follows the 2.5-mile Liberty Loop Trail around part of this huge refuge. The New York-New Jersey AT guidebook lists over a hundred species of birds that live in these wetlands, a birder's paradise.

I didn't see many flowers, but mostly grasses, shrubs, and a few trees, as below:

The AT squares around part of the refuge that used to be a sod farm, which is why it looked more like irrigated fields than a swamp to me. It wasn't "wet." I didn't see the majority of the refuge, which may have more standing water. In the heat, with no shade, I didn't appreciate it as much as I might have in the early morning when it was cooler.

I finally reached some welcome shade in a little swamp on the other side of the refuge:

My timing was perfect the next day (92) as I crossed the mile-wide Pochuck Swamp in the early morning while the air was still cool enough to fully enjoy the beauty that surrounded me. I'm fortunate to have run the AT after 2002, when a much longer, boring road walk was replaced by new, relocated trail right through the swamp.

It was a very expensive project to build the wide, high, handsome walkways and bridges through this swamp - and it was so exTENSIVE  that it took seven years for volunteers to build (there were probably only a few months each year when conditions were right).

The boardwalk is well above the ground so folks can enjoy hiking even when the area is flooded by several feet of water. When I passed through, there was very little standing water.

Here are several views of the Pochuck Swamp:

Look how nicely trimmed the plants are right next to the boardwalk! For a swamp, the place sure looked civilized. Not only are the boardwalks and bridges attractive and sturdy, their design is also thoughtful to the environment and the people using them.

For example, since there are so many birds in the wetland, planners placed several "decks" with benches at intervals along the walkway so people can sit and enjoy their surroundings.

This is one of the small bridges over a little creek:

And the very substantial bridge over Pochuck Creek:

This is a view looking back at the large bridge:

For more photos and information about Pochuck Swamp, see Day 92,  Post 4, Photos 8, Photos 9, and Photos 35 (several flower shots).

I loved the area and would like to go back sometime in the spring. The summer flowers were abundant and stunning, but I'd like to see what is blooming in another season when the ground is wetter.

There was one more wet area on Day 92 between Pinwheel's Vista on Waywanda Mountain and the NJ/NY state line on Bearfort/Bellvale Mountain. This little pond (below) was very scenic, but the bog bridging on the other side was "old school" and the Trail gnarly (second photo) compared to the magnificent Pochuck Swamp:

 

NEW YORK, NEW YORK

Then there was the day I DID fall into some swamp muck as I crossed a "creek" that was more full of black ooze than water. I slipped on a rock, falling backwards on my right elbow and rear end.

What a mess! Read all about that debacle on Day 97, when I cut my run a little short in order to see a doctor for the hematoma that rose on my arm.

I don't have a photo of that swampy area, but I took several shots of my arm. Hope you're not having breakfast or lunch while you read this! The angle is weird because I was holding out my camera to take the picture. I was wearing a wrist band (top of photo). I'd already wiped off most of the blood running from my wrist to my elbow . . .

Now you know why my thru-hiker friend "Red Wolf," an RN who I saw shortly after injuring my arm, implored me to see a doctor ASAP. I also called my sister-in-law, an MD, on my cell phone that day for a second opinion. She concurred.

Bottom line: no dangerous clots, no infection, but plenty of scars. I had another hematoma on that arm earlier in the AT trek, too. It's a wonder I never broke any bones in all my falls.

I was in and out of swamps (literally!) several times that day. I took these photos of the Great Swamp just before Jim rescued me at the trailhead on NY 22 near Pawling:

 

I didn't realize the importance (or name) of the swamp when I wrote that day's journal. The Great Swamp is the main water source for the city of New York - and I walked right through it!

One section about 200 feet long had some of the worst bog bridging on the entire AT (next photo). The boards were rotten, broken, or missing. It was wet underfoot, although you can't tell that from this photo. It was also badly overgrown.

I can't imagine going through there when it's really flooded. I hope it gets repaired before the 2006 thru-hikers arrive:

<sigh> There were no more swamps going northbound on the AT last summer with bridging that came anywhere close to comparing with the structures through Pochuck Swamp. They spoiled me.

NEW ENGLAND WETLANDS

I enjoyed the 25-mile section on Day 102 between Jug End Road and Tyringham Main Road in Massachusetts. The Berkshires are beautiful and the Trail was varied, with several bogs along the way.

In Photos 8 there is a picture of wavy cypress logs used to cross one wet area, and I included two shots of these lush purple loosestrife flowers in another swampy area in Photos 35. The next photo was taken right after those:

Just a wee bit overgrown, eh? But oh, so pretty!

This swamp between Ice Gulch and Benedict Pond was also attractive:

The Trail was also quite "boggy" where it passed close to Benedict Pond:

The bog bridges around this lovely glacial pond - and in other locations where they are used - not only help keep hikers' feet dry, they also help protect the wetlands from damage by all those feet. (This is a popular pond.)

I was intrigued by the sub-alpine bogs I found in New England at higher elevations. I wasn't crazy about the often-slick bog boards, but the lush ferns, mosses, and other plants off to the side were interesting.

The bog in the photo below from Day 104 is up in the cool spruce-and-fir forest on the approach to Mt. Greylock in Massachusetts. It is typical of a sub-alpine bog area:

There is another picture of boggy terrain at the edge of a pond near the Greylock summit in Photos 8.

Vermont also has several interesting bogs and swamps right on the AT. I loved taking a break on a boulder next to this picturesque swamp pond at Roaring Branch on Day 105:

I kept my fingers crossed that a big 'ole bull moose would show up while I was there, but none did. I never did get that classic shot of a moose knee-deep in a swamp, eating whatever they eat in swamps!

However, I did manage to take one of my personal favorite Top Ten shots from the entire summer at this pond:

Whenever I get stressed out about something, I conjure up this photo in my mind and remember how blissfully content I was at the moment I took the picture.

Try it the next time you're a little too wired or worried.

Just a bit farther on the Trail I ran into this mess left by beavers or a flood (or a flood caused by beavers damming up another area of the swamp). Hikers had to either go OVER that pile of debris (carefully) or wade through the water. I chose the dry route over it . . .

There were more boggy areas around and beyond Stratton Pond on Day 107 and  through dense, mossy forests between Styles and Baker Peaks on Day 109. You can see additional Vermont-style bogs there and in Photos 8.

There were loads of other swamps and bogs in New Hampshire, including this pretty little pond that Cody enjoyed on Day 114. It lies between Moose Mountain and Holt's Ledge:

New Hampshire has numerous marshy places at all elevations, particularly in the White Mountains from this wet area south of Galehead Hut (Day 118) . . .

. . . to this elevated bog on the summit of Mt. Jackson in the southern Presidential Range (Day 120):

There were several days with heavy rains while I was in New Hampshire, which created more "wetlands" than during dry weather. When hiking there you have to be prepared for lots of water and mud on the Trail.

WET 'N WILD IN MAINE

Speaking of lots of mud and water . . . you ain't seen nuthin' till you've hiked or run through Maine!!

This is a swamp- or bog-lovers heaven. Get out your fast-draining footwear and come along with me on a little tour of some of Maine's wetlands.

First, an explanation of the difference between bogs and swamps, per the Appalachian Trail Guide to Maine, p. 102 (2004 edition):

"A bog may look like a swamp or an open meadow with a small pond at the center, but it is very different. A bog often forms in a glacially-carved depression where restricted water flow contributes to its development. Bogs are relatively common along much of the AT in Maine, particularly in the Mahoosuc Range. Unlike the more nutrient-rich marsh or swamp, the highly acidic bog literally preserves the organic matter accumulating on its surface. The floating mat of organic debris provides support for sphagnum mosses and sedges which further expands the floating mat, eventually covering the surface of the water. . . Most of the water in the bog remains out of sight below the vegetation . . ."

And that mat can look more solid than it is! One time I wrote about slipping off a bog board into the peat moss and it sucked off one of my shoes. I had a devil of a time retrieving that shoe while trying to not lose the other one.

This is a photo of the "boreal" bog about a mile north of Little Swift River Pond on Day 132:

That looks like your average northern meadow, right?

Wrong. The low area in the middle is water covered by a floating mat of debris and moss. You could not walk on top of it.

Maine's high altitude alpine and sub-alpine bogs are very delicate ecosystems that endure harsh weather year-round, from hot summers to frigid winters. The layer of moss is such a good insulator that the water underneath that freezes during the winter doesn't thaw until mid- or late summer - if then. In some bogs, the ice and peat never thaw completely.

Other sub-alpine wetlands were drier when I passed through. This section of Trail is close to the large boreal bog above:

The next photo shows an alpine bog above treeline on one of the Goose Eye summits on Day 127, a little before I dropped down into Mahoosuc Notch:

The area in the foreground is wet and "muddy," even 'way up there near some of the exposed bedrock. The tufts of "grass" are probably not very stable. It's important to stay on the bridging through areas like this and not go exploring off-Trail.

Here is one of my favorite alpine bogs. It's on one of the Saddleback Mountain peaks, from Day 133. It was very tempting to go over to that gorgeous patch of water, but I didn't.

Day 137 from Long Falls Dam Road to Caratunk (Kennebec River) was full of swamps and bogs, lakes, creeks, and rivers. The terrain around the Carry Ponds was typical of Maine pond-sides: wet, rocky, and over rickety bog boards.

The day also brought what I'd call a "typical" AT swamp: Arnold Swamp. (See that day's entry for the historical connection.)

      

 

I went through a couple more swamps in the vicinity of Bald Mountain Pond a little north of Moxie Bald Mountain on Day 140. I got some drops of rain on my camera lens and decided I like the effect enough to not edit them out (call it "photographer's license").

This is another view nearby, where the "Trail" actually crosses the beaver dam on the left to reach the far side! I just wasn't believing where the white blazes led me!!

It had been raining for two days, so parts of the Trail were a real quagmire. I'm not sure if this mud hole (with nary a bog board) ever dries out:

There was a lot more mud like that near Monson the same day, and on other sections of trail the remainder of the trek.

I'll end this essay with one of the most interesting wet areas along the AT, the Fourth Mountain Bog (Day 143) in the Barren-Chairback Range.

This bog is supposed to have lots of insectivorous plants such as the pitcher plant and sundew. I found photos of each on the internet before starting my run that day so I could properly identify and photograph them, but I couldn't see either plant as I slowly walked through the bog. Rats. Perhaps I was too late in the season (September 19).

This is the only photo I took in the Fourth Mountain Bog:

As much as I hated bog boards, I generally loved the bogs, swamps, marshes, and other wet areas through which the Appalachian Trail passes. I would like to return to several of them in a different season than when I first saw them just to see what else is in bloom or bud.

I hope this essay will entice some readers to get out on the Trail in search of the wonders of the wetlands. It's fun to look for Swamp Things!

Next up: jungle-like areas along the AT, many of them in lush, damp, mossy sub-alpine areas similar to those above.

Happy trails,

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, and Tater

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