Sunday, January 4, 2015

New Year ~ Old Swamp

     I may be an old fool but I'm not foolish enough to make New Years resolutions. They just make you feel bad when you don't keep them. Still, it's good to start a new year with some fresh direction. So be it resolved: my direction in 2015 will be southeast. As in southeast Washington County where there are five state forests I hope to explore. Mt. Tom, Chestnut Woods, Battenkill, Goose Egg and Eldridge Swamp be forewarned, I'm on my way.
     I'm actually 20% there after Holly, her puppy and I spent a few hours in Eldridge Swamp on New Years Day. This is the most recently acquired of the five. The McLenithan family sold 515 acres to New York State in 2005. It's located about three miles east of Cambridge on both sides of Rt. 313. There are three small parking spots: two on the right and one on the left (heading east). The swamp is on the northwest side of the road and uplands are on the southeast. To visit the swamp park in the pull-off on the left of a downhill S bend.

     Partially overgrown fields and old logging roads can be walked but there are no marked trails. The wetland is better suited to the ambling naturalist than a hiker looking for distance. You can reach the Battenkill River in less than a mile but not necessarily a quick, easy mile. We didn't go that far.
     After several cold nights I had hoped the swamp would be frozen. Wrong again! It seems that springs feeding the area supply a constant flow that impedes freezing. While there was no snow and some solid ground there was also open water in places. When walking look for places where White Pines are growing. This tends to be higher and drier ground.

     But we had come for White Spruce, not pine. And we found them, mostly on the western side of the swamp beyond a small clearing of a few acres. Known as the Shushan Outlier, it is a relic population thriving here since post-glacial times 13,000+ years ago. It was discovered in the early 1900's by Frank Dobbins, an amateur botanist from Shushan. Since then it has attracted considerable scientific scrutiny. More information can be found in A White Spruce Outlier at Shushan, New York
by David Cook and Ralph Smith (Ecology Volume No. 40 [July, 1959] No. 3: 333-337) accessed at JSTOR.
     White Spruce is not a rare tree. It covers huge swaths of boreal forest in Canada. The population in Eldridge is significant because it's far to the south of its normal range. Coincidentally the Sycamore trees that line the Battenkill just a short distance away are near the northern limit of their range. What's that about strange bedfellows?
     Geologists say Eldridge Swamp had its origins as the last glacier was retreating. A large block of stagnant ice occupied the site damning the Battenkill Valley drainage. Sediments were deposited around the sides of the block until it eventually melted leaving a depression that became the swamp. Cold, alkaline springs flow out of the banks on the south and southwest sides creating the microclimate that allows White Spruce to persist.
     We saw one such spring while walking an old skid trail. From underneath a fallen log it bubbled up and flowed downslope before disappearing into the wetland. Other springs were once tapped for the Cambridge Village water supply and the Conservation Department fish hatchery.

     Tree huggers might want to be careful around spruces. These conifers have short, bristly needles and rough twigs and bark. Norway and Blue Spruce are common in villages, parks and cemeteries. Red Spruce covers the upper slopes of mountains. Look for it near the summits of Black and Buck on the east side of Lake George. Black Spruce is found in cold bogs. Finally, White Spruce is the common tree of the Great North Woods, and of southern Washington Counties' Eldridge Swamp.


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