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Designated a Registered National Natural Landmark by the Department of Interior in 1973, Bear Swamp itself dates from 13,000 years ago, with the retreat of the last glacier. The interior of Bear Swamp supports a relic stand of giant rhododendron, the northernmost in New York State.
Why “Bear Swamp?” There was, in fact, a Mr. Bear who bought this land from Stephen Van Rensselear in the late 1800s. It’s also true that “bear swamp” is a generic American term for swamps with the kinds of plants found here, including blueberries, which bears relish.
There are two trails at this site: the short and easy-to-follow Memorial Stone Walk (no trail markers), and the two-mile Perimeter Trail (yellow markers), which explores some of the higher ground around the swamp.
The start of the Memorial Stone Walk is across the road from and a short way beyond the parking area. The Perimeter Trails has several moderate climbs and lots of loose rocks and exposed rocks under foot, so be careful walking here. Depending upon the season, this trail may be flooded in sections from beaver activity. From the trail head on Route 404, follow the yellow markers clockwise around the swamp. The trail ends at Route 404, about one-quarter mile west of the parking area.
The rhododendron, which grow most profusely along the edge of the island, are Rhododendron maximum. These rhododendrons are also known as great laurel or rosebay rhododendron, which are most common in the Great Smokies and other Appalachian mountains.
The boardwalk gives a close-up view of the best rhododendrum specimens, which usually bloom in early July. A variety of other swamp plants along this trail include sphagnum moss, leather leaf, winterberry and Labrador tea. The sphagnum moss which has formed the peat island is more than 10 feet thick.
Periodic beaver activity causes intermittent flooding of the swamp, providing habitat for a variety of other swamp plants including sphagnum moss, leather leaf, winterberry and Labrador tea. The sphagnum moss which has formed peat islands measures up to 10 feet thick.
This 310-acre preserve is located in Westerlo, Albany, NY. Download a map to help plan your visit to Bear Swamp.