Home > General Ramblings, Nature > A Trip to Bergen Swamp

A Trip to Bergen Swamp

Yesterday was such a gorgeous day that we decided to take the kids for a hike in Bergen Swamp. The swamp is a unique ecosystem located between the villages of Bergen and Byron, NY. It’s about three or four miles long and about a mile wide, a wild chunk of wetland left over from the last Ice Age.

When most people hear the word “swamp” they visualize a vast sea of cattails that’s mostly covered by water. But The Bergen Swamp is really a dense forest of cedar and hemlock and other evergreen and deciduous trees that looks like it hasn’t changed much in thousands of years. At least the parts you can get to. There are large areas deeper in the heart of the swamp called marls that are reedy and watery, more like a traditional swamp/marsh. And where the two main trails go there’s a vast system of underground streams that occasionally bubble up to the surface for a while and then disappear below ground again. In spring the trails can be pretty soggy, but yesterday it wasn’t bad. We took a trail that loops off the main Hessenthaler Rd. trail for a little more than a mile that covers lots of different terrain before ending back near the parking area. There are little bridges over a couple of small streams and some long wooden board walks across the wetter spots where cattails and giant willows grow. The weather was perfect! A cool breeze and sunny sky. The skunk cabbage were just starting to unfold from the rich, black soil, and tiny leaf buds were popping out on saplings and brush. Arthur usually finds a few giant millipedes (about five inches long and fat!) on logs or stumps, but yesterday we just saw the baby variety.

When you’re back in Bergen Swamp time feels like molasses; like you’ve entered a primeval pocket of nature that’s hushed and separate from the world of fields and roads, railroad tracks and houses outside. As far as you can see in all directions it’s a jumble of shadowed green with fallen trunks and mossy mounds and twisting snake-like roots. New trees grow out of the rotting stumps of their ancestors. The scent of cedar and old leaves and cool, fresh oxygen lulls me into a profound sense of peace with every spongy step. And wherever you look, the dappled green mosaic of life is watchful and quietly rustling and twittering with unseen Presence. Little bodily tensions vanish with each sweet breath. My consciousness melts into the organic ebb and flow of the life of the forest…

We all had a great time of it. Even Fiona did a fine job with all that hiking. Last time I took the kids there in October, I had to carry Fiona the last hundred yards or so to the car! This time she made it the whole way.

On May 22 this year is the annual Swamp Pilgrimage. Actually there are three different group tours to different areas. Each group is lead by someone who is an expert in either the history of the Swamp, or an ornithologist or a botanist. There are many rare species of plants (lilies and pitcher plants) and birds, and Bergen Swamp is home to the Massasauga Rattlesnake, which in my 35 or more years of going there I’ve never yet seen. The important thing to remember when going there is to stay on the trails. I’ve wandered off a bit in years gone by and darn near got lost once! I remember back in the early seventies hearing about a couple of people who got lost in the swamp, and at least one person didn’t make it out.

Coming up next… more fun with Linux!

Bergen Swamp Website

A Few New Photos in My Picasa Web Albums

Categories: General Ramblings, Nature
  1. Jim Bentley
    April 6, 2010 at 3:14 pm


    Great info on the Bergen swamps, I hope someday to take one of those tours.

  2. April 7, 2010 at 1:48 am

    You should do it Jim! They start at 9:00 am and again at 1:00 pm on the 22nd. The groups meet behind The Gillam-Grant Center under the pavilion. It’s great fun, especially if the weather’s decent.

  3. james stirk
    May 4, 2011 at 4:17 am

    Bergen Swamp is a fascinating place, many years ago me and my cousins, who lived in North Bergen right on the edge of the swamp,would hunt fish and swim there. Great memories.

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