Wednesday Wanderings: Drowned Lands Swamp Conservation Area

Contributed photoDrowned Lands Swamp

This month, I’m excited to visit Drowned Lands Swamp, one of Columbia County’s hidden treasures.

Drowned Lands is located at 645 County Route 3 in Ancram. If you’re using GPS to navigate, you may need to watch for the entrance sign as you approach. When you visit, keep your dog on a leash, carry out everything you carry in, and bring a pair of binoculars, if you have them! Drowned Lands is an incredible spot for birding, especially during spring and fall migrations, so you may wish to download the eBird app before you head out so that you can track who you’re seeing.

When you enter the site, you’ll notice the trails split into a Y at the kiosk. The right fork of the trail leads to the summit, while the left explores views of the swamp. We’ll wander both trails this week. Before you head out, take a moment to consider the original Indigenous stewards of this land: the Mohican tribe. Despite tremendous hardship in being forced from here, today their community resides in Wisconsin and is known as the Stockbridge-Munsee Community.*

Now it’s time to consider which trails you’ll travel. The Summit Trail is a shorter, steeper hike, while the Swamp Trail is a relatively flat grassy trail that extends alongside the swamp.

We’ll start on the Summit Trail, which leads to the top of Old Croken, a 350-foot knoll also known as Old Broken. Legend has it that Old Croken played an important role during Prohibition: still operators would run to the top of the hill and hoist a flag to indicate that a batch of homebrew was ready for purchase. In order to throw the police off their tracks — literally — moonshiners may have worn “cow shoes” so that they would leave hoof prints instead of footprints as they climbed.

Once you reach the top of Old Croken, catch your breath, enjoy the view, and appreciate the local farmers who have protected much of the land you see from here. Much of this land has been identified as prime farmland soil, and thanks to our farmers, this land is scenic, productive, and protected from development.

Let’s follow our tracks back down the Summit Trail and explore the wetland from the Swamp Trail. Drowned Lands Swamp is part of the multi-state Harlem Valley calcareous wetlands (“calcareous” means that the soils here are chalky). This rare wetland extends throughout Dutchess and Putnam Counties in New York, Fairfield and Litchfield Counties in Connecticut, and Berkshire County in Massachusetts. In addition to the benefits all wetlands provide, this special place also supports uncommon plants, animals, and reptiles – nearly 100 such species are found at Drowned Lands. These include birds like the northern goshawk, red-shouldered hawk, and eastern bluebird; mammals like the long-eared bat, reptiles like the spotted turtle; and plants like swamp birch and rough pennyroyal.

Drowned Lands is a wonderful place to take your time, whether you’re slowly strolling the Swamp Trail or reflecting on the view from Old Croken. Come back in other seasons (except maybe in June and July during the black fly’s heyday!) to mark how time changes this place: what do you see or smell? What birds are calling? Though the trails are relatively short, there’s a lot to experience, if we take the time.

* Land acknowledgment language provided by the Stockbridge Munsee Cultural Affairs Department

I’d love to hear about your wanderings. Email info@clctrust.org or share your photos on social media – CLC is on Instagram @clctrust, and each Public Conservation Area has its own Facebook page.

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