Monday, September 04, 2006

Cranesville Swamp

Sydney and I had a wonderful time Sunday afternoon tramping around Cranesville Swamp in neighboring Garrett County, in far western Maryland along the West Virginia border.

This remarkable subarctic swamp formed during the last Ice Age and has been preserved intact the past 15,000 years in a quirky "frost pocket" that keeps the place colder and wetter than normal, and a haven for animal and plant species normally found nowhere south of Canada, including the southernmost tamarack forest in the United States.

We heard about this place before we moved to the neighborhood this summer, but we figured we'd better go see it quick, while it's still there. Like every other spot in North America, the Alleghenies are getting warmer, frost pockets and all.

Sydney and I especially enjoyed the 1,500-foot boardwalk over the peat bog, which is 3 feet deep in spots. That's impressive, since peat is formed by sphagnum moss growing and flourishing in the same spot for thousands of years. This is the least invasive boardwalk I ever saw, set at bog level and barely two people wide. In many places, the vegetation is reaching up through the planks to claim it.

The bog's surface is a thicket of shrubs and ground plants that teems in summer with bees and butterflies and, alas, flies, which ignored Sydney in order to feast on that lumbering buffet just behind her, namely me.

Other colorful inhabitants of the swamp and its woods of red spruce and hemlock include the tiny saw-whet owl, which could fit in the palm of the hand, and the sundew, a carnivorous plant that lacks the Venus' flytrap's press agent.

No, I didn't take any photos. The camera is in the shop, though it should be back Any Day Now.

More than 1,500 acres of the swamp and environs has been bought by the Nature Conservancy, which has planted thousands of red spruce and white pines since 2002, to replace trees unwisely logged at mid-century. The Conservancy also maintains the boardwalk, a network of single-file walking trails and a muddy parking lot that holds maybe a half-dozen cars. Big crowds of people aren't really wanted there, as the ecosystem is too delicate. Fortunately, the place is an hour off the interstate and impossible to find without close attention to the excellent directions on the Nature Conservancy's website.

That the Nature Conservancy needs all the help it can get probably goes without saying, but I'll say it anyway. Here's the website again.

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