SYNOPSIS: The Great Swamp is one of the prominent natural features of our area, but most of us rarely venture into it to explore this ‘other’ world. For many, the idea of slopping through the muck and undergrowth for a couple hours, swatting mosquitoes and flies, while hoping they don’t get lost is not exactly the picture of fun. But a swamp provides significant ecologic benefits, and the Great Swamp has a unique beauty that has to been seen to be truly appreciated.
The Patterson Environmental Park provides an opportunity to explore a portion of the Great Swamp without spending those hours in the muck. A short walk down a packed gravel road takes you from downtown Patterson to a boat launch on the edge of the swamp. This is a nice, easy walk over level ground, and it is popular spot for dog owners, canoeists and kayakers.
APPROXIMATE TIME: 40 minutes.
DIRECTIONS: Take Route 311 into downtown Patterson. Turn south onto Front Street near the railroad crossing, and head south a few blocks. The access road to the park is just south of the Patterson Recreation Center where the paved road turns to the right, so we parked in the rec center parking lot and walked across the street to the dirt road that leads into the swamp. The train tracks you will be crossing over are LIVE. Be very careful – as of this writing there is no traffic control device.
THE HIKE: As you start down the road, on your right is a small overgrown field. The road heads straight for a few hundred feet, then curves to the right. After the curve there is an out-of-place rock formation. Large, square rocks are piled like blocks – most likely castaways from the days when this was an old quarry. There is a small loop trail that leads behind these rocks for a better look. If you are brave, which I am not, there were lots of nooks and crannies to climb through and explore.
Continuing down the dirt road a short distance past the rock pile, you will arrive at the boating access point. There was a surprisingly steady current considering how flat the area seemed. Exploring the water’s edge, we saw quite a few crayfish, and ran into a leech looking for a meal. Luckily, we weren’t it.
The walk back took us a little longer because the kids realized we were sharing the road with hundreds of tiny snails. Apparently there is some rule in the universe that says all children must stop to examine every snail. I think some even got names before we could move on.
Aside from the main gravel road and the small loop trail around the rock pile, there were a few other side trails, but at the time most were too muddy to explore – even for a swamp!
It took our group of seven, ranging in ages from 4 months to 64 years, about 40 minutes round trip. Compared to our past hikes through the woods, the gravel road was nice because it had something to offer all three generations of my family – the kids burn off some energy running up and down the road, the parents can keep the kids within sight, and the grandparents can savor the outdoors and enjoy some time with the family. Since this is a swamp, dress accordingly and bring the bug spray.
HISTORY: In the past, this property has been both a quarry and a garbage dump. Now, this 23-acre preserve is owned by the Town of Patterson.
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: Our last visit was in June 2009. Pets are allowed if leashed. There is no published map that I know of, but if you stick to the gravel road, you don’t need one. For more info on Patterson Environmental Park visit www.pattersonny.org.
Friends of the Great Swamp (FroGS), a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting the Great Swamp across Putnam and Dutchess, has a more detailed history of the park on their website at www.frogs-ny.org. Look for Richard Saracelli’s “A Short History of Patterson’s Environmental Park” in the About the Swamp section.