The forests of the Adirondacks, while often wonderfully recovered from clear-cutting and burning 100 years ago, are “spring chickens” compared to my favorite ecological retreatsâ€”peat bogs.
When the glacier melted back 10,000 years ago, huge ice chunks were sometimes left buried in rock debris. When these eventually melted, they left “kettle hole” ponds with no running water inlet or outlet. These ponds often developed sphagnum moss edges where only certain plants could survive and, through the eons, the bog vegetation grew in towards the center, sometimes completely covering the water. Most lakes and ponds in the Adirondacks also have quiet water bays edged with bog mats or have islands of bog in the middle.
Sphagnum (peat) moss gives off acids that added to the always wet, cool, oxygen- and nutrient-poor, only partially decayed peat creates conditions where many heath shrubs and vines and other specialized plants thrive. Some bogs started forming right after the ice melted. As no non-native plants can live in them, all of these ecological islands, no matter how small or old, are really, really WILD!
Bogs are also very beautiful, and the three or four dozen people (only one or two at a time) whom I have baptized up to the ankle in the clear water of the soggy but sweet-smelling sphagnum moss find them fascinating.; Many lifetime Adirondack canoeists have never dared step onto a bog (those old English stories about “bog people” may have scared them off), but when they look closely at the flowering shrubs, carnivorous plants (pitcher plants are pretty diagnostic of a bog), native orchids, real cranberries (not “high bush”), cotton grass, bonzaied larches and the many colors of moss , they are surprised at what they have missed all those years. There are rare dragonflies and butterflies which live only around bogs too. Photographers often go haywire.
The best way to explore a bog is in a small solo canoe (Hornbecks are perfect) with a double-bladed paddle. You follow the edges of the floating bog mat closely, looking for signs of bird and other animal life as well as at the flora. There will be many aquatic flowering plants too, carnivorous being common. Ram the bow onto mat that is sloping into the water and “bottom hitch” the boat up far enough to climb out the bow. Voila! It’s another world. Canoe up the many narrow channels but maybe not where the watersnake is basking in the shrub!
Marshes (grass and sedge wetlands) come and go with beaver activity, but bog mats can often float with the rising water and then survive being stranded for a while if the dam goes out because sphagnum moss soaks up and holds water like a sponge. Disturbing the drainage by major dams, new roads, or digging channels, or letting upland nutrients flow into the bog, will totally destroy them.
Our wetlands are protected by the Adirondack Park Agency down to an acre in size (to a much smaller size than in the rest of the state) or less than an acre if there is a free flow of water between a wetland and surface water. As a result, bogs in the Adirondacks should be around forever unless climate change is too extreme.
Good places to see a bog by walking on a boardwalk are the former Paul Smiths VIC and Ferd’s Bog near Old Forge. It is always best to have a guide, at least a publication if not a person, to point out the unique features, including rare birds, of these mind-boggling natural phenomena.
About the author. PROTECT board member Evelyn Greene is a naturalist who writes about her explorations in the woods and waters of the Adirondacks and enjoys bushwhacking to interesting wild places with people who know how to use a compass or GPS. She has lived near North Creek for 35 years.