A Wintertime Walk At The Penrose Swamp Barrens Preserve
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.