New York State has, I found out yesterday, two identically-named state forests. I visited the one in the Finger Lakes region, just south of Skaneateles Lake. It’s namesake is in Otsego County, about a hundred miles east, near Cooperstown (Baseball Hall of Fame). And a quick web search came up with lots of Bear Swamps, all over the country.
Bears apparently just love a good swamp. And yet quagmires, morasses, even a good foggy fen – – you really cannot interest them. You show them a sun-dappled marsh, spacious, move-in-ready, priced-to-sell, and it’s “Yeah, it’s ok I guess, I don’t need anything fancy, but this is just.. a bit…reedy, I guess. Yeah, that’s it. A bear needs trees, you know?”
Peat bogs, forget it. That’s more of an amphibian scene, and too acidic.
Despite it’s name, Bear Swamp has plenty of hills and woods, and miles of trails. Depending on the website, it’s acreage is 3280, 3300, 3316, or 3539.
Perhaps it’s growing, that would be nice. It’s a pleasant mix of old pine plantations and hardwoods.
And it included kind of a surprise – what, according to my map, downloaded from the state DEC site, was a little creek, yesterday appeared to be a good-sized pond:
I’ve never been to this spot before, and didn’t know if some of this is normally marshland, and just submerged by spring flooding. (And I think that’s the explanation.).
The pond was lapping the edge of one of the access roads, and looked like it had recently washed over it. The access roads are dirt, and were fairly rough, with some huge puddles, and I wouldn’t recommend driving down them without AWD.
This was one of the smooth stretches:
We saw some wildflowers, but what was unusual, were huge stretches of forget-me-nots. And I’m pretty sure, these were Chinese forget-get-me-nots – – I guess they’re not considered an invasive species, but wow they really spread.
Some of this forest was reclaimed farmland, and so, predictably, there were patches of Vinca minor (“periwinkle”) near the sites of old houses – – apparently all the old-time farmers were absolutely required to grow this in their gardens – – but I’ve never seen so many forget-me-nots before.
And also one of the banes of my existence. Garlic mustard, which is really getting on my nerves. A lot of folks who normally don’t visit parks & woods, have been venturing out this spring, while the epidemic has shut down their normal haunts, but I’m guessing they don’t recognize this plant as a horrible plague of its own. I have not taken a single walk in the past few years, without seeing it. It spreads along the access roads, then up the trails, and at this point, it’s impossible to take a walk anywhere in the region without tripping over the smelly stuff. The deer won’t touch it – – the leaves are bitter and contain cyanide (just a bit, they’re still edible, but it shows what kind of an attitude this plant has), and the allelopathic roots not only kill off native plants, but also the soil fungi which are beneficial for trees. Whenever I stop for a drink of water, I yank it out, but it would literally take an army to clear an entire woods. You can see it in this photo, the heart-shaped leaf, and by next year, it may have killed off that flower.
I always think of swamps as low-lying, but Bear Swamp is the high point of the county.
Not culturally, I mean the land around the swamp, soars to 1860 feet (over a thousand feet higher than the county’s lowest point). OK, the Rockies it ain’t, but on the other hand, the Rockies don’t have these cute red-spotted newts.
And it turns out, the forest is indeed growing a bit. The local land trust acquired 145 acres along the creek, and it’s now been attached to the state forest. This watershed drains into Skaneateles Lake, which serves as the reservoir for the city of Syracuse. They’ve managed to keep the water so pure, that the city essentially does no filtering. Isn’t that good to hear?