Russ and I go play in the Great Swamp!

Russ Juelg, the naturalist from the Pinelands Preservation Alliance has been wondering about reports of cougars in the pines. If there were, then they would probably be found at the most inaccessable parts -- the large swamps. Russ decided to start looking in Great Swamp, which lies between the Mullica and Nescochague rivers. I invited myself along, since I can't resist cedar swamps.

This turned out to be a truly excellent adventure, one of the best I've had in the pines. The traverse of the Great Swamp, although extremely challenging (or maybe the word is difficult) was rewarding because of the magnificent stands of cedar and the numerous small streams.

We started out early on January 4, 2001, and decided that we wanted to take a look what I believed was an abandoned cranberry bog that neither of us had ever visited before. Russ was driving and I was navigating. When we were close to the bogs, we started to cross a bridge. Looking out I noticed there was a really neat stream and asked Russ to stop so I could get a few pictures. Here they are.

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Of course, Russ couldn't resist the photo op either...

We then continued on to the bogs, which were, indeed, abandoned. After we cross a stream leading past it, we were able to get in to the bogs proper. Here are some pictures of the overgrown bogs, and of a frozen watercourse in which we could see the water running under the ice. The last photo shows cranberry plants poking out through the snow.

It was here that I had my first encounter with phragmites, a non-native, invasive plant which has begun showing up in the pinelands. These plants are quite tall (a couple of feet taller than I am).

As we started to work our way back, we noticed an odd wall made out of iron stone. Was it part of a building of some sort, or perhaps a dam? We couldn't tell, but here it is...

It was time to start working our way over to our departure point for the swamp traverse. But on the way, we found this beautiful little stream.

Now where had we been so far? The map below shows it all!

We continued on to a feature which we were calling hump-1, which turned out to be a depression, not a hump at all. The plan was to start here and traverse the swamp and try to come out by the "Swamp Monster". We entered the cedar swamp knowing that we had about a mile of continuous swamp to cross. At first it was easy, the only hazard being weak ice in places. Then we started to encounter massive blow-downs in which there were large cedar trees scattered like straws.

At one point, I was walking a large log, and fell off, landing (thankfully) on my feet, but fully expecting to drive through the ice and be hip deep in water. Russ must have thought I had gone nuts, because I burst out in a fit of laughing. Why? Because somehow I had managed to land on something solid!

We frequently had to walk the fallen trees to avoid thin ice. We emerged from the cedar forest after about 0.8 miles, and continued across swamp that had been clear cut. Unfortuneately, we had veered a little south of where we had intended to come out, and thus missed the "Swamp Monster".

We paused for lunch, and decided we should head back because it was getting late. We opted to go the long way, around the south of the Great Swamp, since, as I put it, crossing a one mile swamp once in a day is fun -- doing it twice is a lousy idea (spending the night in a swamp doesn't appeal to me). As it was, we made it back just before the sun set.

I have no pictures from the traverse because it was hairy enough that I didn't want to take the time to take them. Plus, there was generally no place to set down my pack to get my camera out. Was there cougar sign? I promised not to tell. Stay tuned. In any case, the map below shows where we traversed.