Finger Lakes, FLX, hiking, Nature, Spring, Upstate New York

Walks Around the Finger Lakes. May. Bear Swamp State Forest

There’s a lot of places called “Bear Swamp.”

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 good marsh, at a reasonable price, 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.

 

 

 

Well, we saw no bears, beavers, or otters, which were reintroduced into the area.  We did see numerous red newts, which always make me happy.

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.

[Editor’s Note:  One Paragraph Rant Warning] 

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?

 

 

 

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If you ever find yourself in Wampsville, and run out of things to do, I have a suggestion.

 

A lot of the state forests are reclaimed farmland, and even after 60 – 90 years, there’s still evidence of houses and barns from the old days.

 

You might think,

as I did,

that living as we do,

picture-perfect lives,

or at least,

lives we can photoshop into something presentable,

and not having the faintest idea where it is,

it’s not likely

you’d ever end up

in Wampsville.

 

An old twisted drainpipe, in the corner of my eye, looked for a second like a discarded snakeskin.

 

But we never really know what twist of fate is in store, or is perhaps back-ordered, just waiting to unload on us, when we take a wrong turn.

Yesterday, I happened upon Wampsville, about seventy miles east of my hometown, on my way to a nearby state forest.  Turns out, it’s a real place, bustling with 534 residents, right on NY Route 5.

I grew up a couple of minutes walk from that highway, but I’ve never driven too far on it, because it parallels the Thruway, which is a heck of of lot faster way to cross the state.  For a 67 mile stretch, including my village, it’s the same highway as U.S. Route 20.  One of my grandmothers lived in Avon, near one end of “5 & 20” and I worked for a time in Auburn, the other end.  And someday, when I’ve got a few weeks, I’d like to drive the length of Rte 20 – – 3,365 miles, from Boston, Mass. to Newport, Oregon.

Despite it’s bantam size, Wampsville is in fact the county seat for Madison County.

(Which has 124 bridges, if that topic comes up.)

(And 143 large-size culverts, if Streep & Eastwood make a sequel)

It’s mostly rural – – the Chobani yogurt company is based there, and although it uses at least 25 million gallons of milk, each week, it’s a myth that cows outnumber people in the county.

People hold a least a 2-to-1 edge.

 

 

Like the county I grew up in, the old-time residents couldn’t agree on which town would be honored as the county seat.

The solution in my county, was to have two county seats, and build courthouses in each, which they still maintain.  I believe they finally settled on Waterloo as the primary county seat, but I could be wrong, and don’t care to inquire.  The one time I asked a local official, during a Memorial Day gathering, he wandered off into an endless legalistic history of the “two-shire system,” etc. and I woke up two days later from a coma-like state, with a headache and no memory of the entire weekend.

Madison County picked the town of Cazenovia as its HQ in 1810, but then five years later pitched camp in Morrisville, and stayed there for over ninety years, even though they had to rebuild after the Loomis Gang burned down the courthouse in 1864.  But in 1907, when several towns competed for the honor, John Coe stepped up & offered his apple orchard in Wampsville as a site for a new courthouse, and that settled it.

There are two theories about the name.

The first, was that a large “S” went missing from the original village signboard, and those thrifty 19th c. Dutch and Yankee settlers didn’t want to purchase a new one.  They figured it would turn up, by and by, and eventually found they could get along fine without “Swampsville.”

In the second (and real) version, the town was named for Myndert Wemple, descended from an old New Netherlands family, but at some point, people decided Wempleville or Wempsville sounded funny, and wisely opted for Wampsville instead.

It just has more “oomph” to it.

 

 

So anyways, to return to the original point, if you’re in Wampsville but if there’s no trial on, I’d recommend driving due south to Buck’s Corners, and Stoney Pond State Forest.

(And that is the way they spell it, “stoney.”  I just read that most people spelled it that way, prior to 1850, and it’s still an accepted variant in Webster’s.)

This is a relatively small state forest, less than 1500 acres, but it has a nice 44-acre pond, and some smaller beaver ponds, too.

 

There are miles of pleasant trails, through mixed pine/hemlock/maple woods, and sometimes with views toward distant hills covered with windmills.

 

Volunteers groom the trails in winter for cross-country skiing.

 

 

This was eroded farmland, reforested in the ’40’s and ’50’s. The area began being farmed by settlers of European stock beginning in the 1790’s. This mossy old stone wall, mostly intact, runs for at least a mile through the woods.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This flower was tiny but beautiful.  I think it’s Polygalaides Pauciflora (please correct me if that’s wrong!).  As formal names go, that’s pretty musical-sounding.

It’s common name, “Bird-On-The-Wing” is also great, and “Flowering Wintergreen” & “Fringed Polygala” are OK too.

Then things go downhill a bit, with “Fringed Milkwort”  which is a bit odd-sounding, like a disease, but apparently in the old days, they’d feed this plant to cows, to increase milk production.

It would make a nice picture, to see a farmer offering a bouquet of these to the herd.

 

 

Leaving the forest, and taking a more direct route back to the highway, you’ll pass through Peterboro, and the remnants of the 19th c. Gerrit Smith estate.

I’ll leave Gerrit for another day, but he was a fascinating guy, who ran for President three times, and used his fortune to support abolition, temperance, women’s suffrage, integrated colleges, non-sectarian religion, John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry, and probably a dozen other causes I can’t bring to mind.

The ocher-colored building above (1830) was the laundry for the estate.

Well, lots of interesting stuff, it turns out, I hope to poke around this area again some time.

 

 

 

Nature, NY, Uncategorized, Upstate New York

Walks Around Upstate New York. May. Stoney Pond State Forest

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Saturday

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday

 

What a difference a day makes.

I took a snapshot on Saturday, to show what a good year the trillium are having.

And then showed the same spot, the very next day, during a little snow squall.

There was a polarizing filter on the camera, the only one I ever use, and the snow-covered plants can be seen more clearly in the photo, than by the naked eye.

The pictures could have been taken twenty minutes apart, though, that snow vanished quickly.

That’s just the way the weather is around here, in March.

Er…April, sorry.

Wait!  It’s the middle of May – – and it should be 30° by dawn tomorrow!

 

 

 

 

Finger Lakes, FLX, Frostbite, Nature, NY, Upstate New York

Walks Around the Finger Lakes. May. Trillium & Marsh-marigold. But not Snowdrops

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