Established in 1970, Finzel Swamp Preserve is managed by The Nature Conservancy and is one of three featured habitats in my children’s book, Wild Wonders of Maryland. I visited the preserve, located near Frostburg in western Maryland, in August 2020 on a cloudy, drizzly day. The slight mist only gave the preserve more of a magical aura as I parked my car and proceeded down the one-mile trail leading through Cranberry Swamp and along a series of wooden bridges. The area being a wetland, I knew there would be snakes, which to me are fascinating to know about, but alarming to see in person. So, the overgrown weeds and grasses along the trail did nothing to soothe my unease. I walked slowly and apprehensively, certain I would step on a slithery thing.
I downloaded the very helpful audio tour from TNC’s website before the trip in order to give context to what I was seeing around me. The pools were dark from the rich tannins of the decaying plant life. Some of the plants I came across (and loosely identified with the Seek app) included a daisy fleabane, bitter nightshade, southern arrowwood, and red chokeberry, among others. The trail eventually opens up to a small lake with surrounding meadows.
Though I did come across three northern water snakes — one of which was basking gloriously in the sun and two whose tails I saw disappear into the grass as I came walking near — it was a peaceful setting and an amazing glimpse into a remarkable natural area carved by glaciers thousands of years ago. When the ice sheets retreated, many of the northern species that were pushed southward moved north again except at Finzel Swamp. Species like larch, wild calla, and Canadian burnet are able to thrive in the cooler conditions created by the area’s frost pocket effect. Finzel Swamp is one of the few southernmost locations in these species’ range!
A few other notable facts and features:
- located at the headwaters of the Savage River and comprised of 326 acres
- features more than 30 rare and uncommon species including state-rare breeding birds like the saw-whet owl, alder flycatcher, and the Virginia rail
- includes five types of wetlands
- one of two remaining populations of the endangered larch in Maryland
- Finzel Swamp is actually a fen, a type of wetland with a groundwater source
- It is also considered a peatland where the gradual buildup of soil over thousands of years eventually turns into peat, which *stores twice as much carbon as all the world’s forests (*source: The United Nations Environment Programme)