A Wintertime Walk At The Penrose Swamp Barrens Preserve

A Wintertime Walk At The Penrose Swamp Barrens Preserve

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I was planning  to return and  explore some more of  the Montour Preserve last  Saturday. It is where I participated in  my first  National   Audubon’s   Christmas Bird Count   the previous week. However, there was some snow showers in the forecast so I decided to stay closer to home. I drove to  the newly acquired State Forests lands in the Penrose Swamp Barrens in Carbon County.  It is about 10 miles from my home in Luzerne County. I accessed the  2700 acres   preserve on  the Buck Mountain Road.

There is no parking lot or trailhead in the preserve yet,  but I understand they are going to  make one here,  so I parked my Jeep along the road.  It was overcast with a light snow shower when I arrived. It was seasonably cold with temperatures  in the low 30’s.

There is no trail  leading into the preserve  just a path  created, I  believe,  by  off road vehicles of   Forestry Department .  It was overgrown with brambles and grasses and was  tick infested when I hiked here in the summer.  The brambles and grasses are now withered, and there were no ticks, but it was still swampy, wet and  a little rough hiking on the overgrown path.

The snow showers continued making for a wintery scene as I walked through the thick brush. It was the first time I hiked in snow this mild Fall and Winter.

The  withered  and brown blackberry  brambles,

Canadian bluejoint grass,

and milkweed pods were scattered along the path,  some of the remains of last Summer’s lush growth. It was swampy and wet  on the path.

I also found some mushrooms  growing on the stumps on the path, including a few  brick tops, edible mushrooms which I harvested, and forgot to photograph, this frozen  yellow jelly or witches butter fungus. I have heard it is edible but I never tried it.

I think this is a cinnamon polypore mushroom.

There was also some Hartford or climbing fern along the path. This endangered fern can be found throughout the preserve. It may be the reason these 2700 pristine acres of wilderness were saved. Large areas of this fern were discovered by some local conservationist  and through their  efforts this area was purchased by a wildlife conservancy and given to the  Pennsylvania Department of Forestry. It  is now part of  the Weiser State Forest.

There was also  some juniper haircap moss,

and this interesting plant/fungi, British soldiers. It is  a symbiotic relationship between a lichen and a fungus.

The path leads to the old Buck Mountain Railroad right of way. It is privately owned  from the Buck Mountain Road to a private residence but is part  part of the Penrose Swamp Barrens preserve after property line of the private home.  It was much easier walking here. The right of way was mostly clear of brush. It still was very wet and swampy.

I followed the right of way until I came to a utility pole line that crosses the  preserve. The utility right of way  would take you down to the Hazle or  Black Creek if you followed it to the right or north.

I continued across the pole line and on the railroad right of way. It entered some thick hemlock woods and here the old railroad ties are still visible. The railroad was built in the 1860’s and I believe it has been abandoned for almost a century now.

The right way way continued  through a wetland where I have seen mallard and wood ducks in the warmer months. It passes  a  small pond where Canada geese nest in the Spring.

It then  entered a thick hemlock,  oak and beech  woodlands,

with thick growths of rhododendrons . There were bogs and wetlands on both sides of the right of way. I have walked into the bogs and found them almost impassable. I have also seen a few bears in this area of the preserve, unfortunately,  I didn’t see any on this hike.

There was a lot ground pine or princess moss along the trail .

The oak and beech trees still had a few brown withered leaves clinging to their branches.

I had not seen or heard a single critter on my hike until I heard, and saw,  a small flock of black-capped chickadees  in this thick woodlands. These friendly birds are often the only ones I  see on the coldest Winter days.   

I followed the right of way until it intersected with the old Hazleton Railroad right of way at Hazle Junction.

The first railroad in the area, the Beaver Meadows railroad also  intersected at this once busy intersection. There is still an  active railroad  on these tracks but it is little used, only hauling coal from one of the last active anthracite coal mines in the area.

The Hazle or Black Creek also passes under a bridge here. Once teeming with fish it was polluted by acid mine drainage from the coal mines. However, efforts are being made to restore it. I followed the railroad tracks north and passed through another thick forest of hemlock and white pine trees.

There was another flock of black-capped chickadees  chattering  in the hemlock and pine branches. 

I followed the rails out to the Penrose reservoir. It was ice free which is unusual for late December in Northeastern Pennsylvania.  In most year it would be frozen and sometimes snow-covered. I have seen beavers, river   otters,  wood ducks, mallards great blue herons and  least  bitterns  on the reservoir. I didn’t see anything on this hike.

I walked past the reservoir and followed a  path along   Penrose Creek. .

The soggy path  took me under a mixed white pine, hardwood and pitch pines woodland.  

It was covered with a thick carpet of fallen pine needles with large areas of Hartford ferns growing all along the path.

Both pitch pines cones ,

and white pine cones were found everyway on the trail.

I didn’t see them, but I am sure there were many gray and red squirrels living here. There were many piles of discarded pine cones left after  the squirrels had eaten the pine nuts.

The trails were a reddish brown color from the fallen pine needles but there were  some green colors   from the   Hartford ferns,

some intermediate wood ferns,

and fan club moss growing in the pine needles. .

The smell of pine was heavy on the trail which I followed along the creek for about a half mile

before I turned around and started my return hike.

As I neared the reservoir I saw a pair of mallard ducks on the water but they flew off before I could photograph them. I did see a small  flock of dark eyed juncos feeding along the reservoir.

The dusting of snow that had fallen melted as I walked back along the railroad tracks.

I left the active railroad right of way and, as I started on the old Buck Mountain Railroad right of way. Here  I came across these mushrooms, funeral bells, skull caps or deadly galerenia mushrooms. They are one of the few lethal species of mushrooms that grow in our woodlands.  Here is a link to a gallery on my blog website with some more photos of the plants and fungi I saw on my five mile hike in the preserve. Penrose Swamp Barrens fungi and plants December 30 2023.

I didn’t see any more wildlife on my five mile hike  but I did see a pair of muzzleloader hunters trudging through the swampy access path into the preserve. Hopefully, soon,  there will be a better access into this beautiful and pristine wilderness which once stretched across all of Northeastern Pennsylvania. Here is a link to a gallery on my blog website with some more photos  from  my five mile hike in the preserve. Penrose Swamp Barrens  December 30 2023.

“If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant: if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome.” Anne Bradstreet

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