Written by Dugan Radwin, Penney/Poughkeepsie Journal
Covering 6,000 acres, the Great Swamp is one of the largest freshwater swamps in New York state. Aside from its ecological diversity, it filters out pollution to provide clean drinking water for people throughout the region.
Where can you go for a glimpse of the state’s largest red maple hardwood forest and diverse wildlife, including at least 90 species of birds? No, you don’t have to go to the Adirondacks, it’s all right here in the Great Swamp straddling Dutchess and Putnam counties.
Recently, we took part in a canoe trip of the swamp offered by the Friends of the Great Swamp (FrOGS), a community group devoted to protecting the swamp and abutting lands. For a dozen years, the group has hosted guided canoe trips in the swamp on a couple of weekends each spring. It provides canoes, paddles and life vests, offering an easy canoeing opportunity even for those with no experience.
Because of its simple nature, this paddle is great for families. The day of our trip, several families with children from all over the region took part and seemed to have a lot of fun.
FrOGS Treasurer Laurie Wallace prepared the group for the outing, explaining that we would paddle up the east branch of the Croton River. “The river twists and turns and meanders,” she said. “It doesn’t flow straight. It flows through some great floodplain forest, then out to marshy lake area, then across a small beaver dam, then to another marshy area with beautiful water lilies.”
Participants were given basic instructions in paddling before volunteers helped participants get situated in their canoes that were launched into the water.
Led by Environmental Educator Beth Herr, the trip covered only a few miles of the swamp, which stretches for about 20 miles through the towns of Southeast, Patterson, Pawling and Dover.
While it is possible to paddle most of that length, we were told that it becomes substantially more difficult in some places, for example, where beaver dams force paddlers to lift their canoes over blocked areas.
The paddle began with a narrow twisting section that took concentration to navigate, but soon gave way to a calm open area with sweeping views and plenty of room for canoeists to spread out and explore.
At one point, Herr gestured silently, bringing the group’s attention to a great blue heron standing motionless in the tall grass. Others spotted a turtle and graceful long-winged flies laying eggs on the water. Later we were awed by a stunning section of blooming pond lilies.
Breathing the cool moist air and enjoying the scenery out on the water, we entered a more tranquil world. The trip was a reminder how lucky we are in the mid-Hudson Valley to have such a wealth of places to reconnect with nature. Thanks to FrOGs, the Great Swamp is easily accessible to everyone each spring.