Navigating The Great Swamp
By Jana Seitz
Beaver dams are a natural obstacle, as are felled trees, so the navigable path is constantly changing.
A swamp without alligators or water moccasins is a real treat for a displaced swamp rat like me. When mosquitos are the biggest threat to your adventure, you can relax and enjoy the paddle. “Look deep into nature, and you will understand everything better,” said Albert Einstein. To see things from the point of view of the timeless dragonfly, a trip by kayak through The Great Swamp is the ticket. You don’t have to travel far to immerse yourself completely. I have done this trip a handful of times, each in a different season. Late spring is the best, as the water level is at its highest. But a recent summer jaunt through the Swamp, flush from all the recent rain, was like a trip to Bayou Country…without the scary creatures.
The Great Swamp is a watershed extending from Dover Furnace in Dutchess County to Brewster in Putnam County, formed 15,000 years ago when the last glaciers retreated. It encompasses 62,643 acres (97 square miles), with actual wetland of 4,000 to 6,000 acres. It runs parallel to Highway 22, no coincidence as I imagine this highway was built on a thousand-year-old footpath well worn by hunter-gatherers and deer.
Watersheds are crucial as they provide water filtration, control flooding, and recharge the aquifer beneath, which in turn provides drinking water for the area. Rainfall from a watershed area flows into its wetlands. This water cycle is all well and good, but The Great Swamp also offers habitats for wildlife, including paddlers and hikers. Birds and bugs abound, especially butterflies, dragonflies, and damselflies. Beaver dams are a natural obstacle, as are felled trees, so the navigable path is constantly changing. The Swamp is not deep, but it’s best to stay in your boat as the underlying bedrock is soft and squishy. You may freak out if your shoes get sucked off your feet by the muck.
Although much of the access is on private land, there are 14 miles of navigable water, flowing north and south from the watershed’s highest point in Pawling, referred to as the North Flow and the South Flow. I’ve popped on and off where I had no business doing so and have walked miles from the take-out back to the put-in to get my truck (mistakes have been made). But there are several sure-fire launches I’ve included below. Ski Haus in Brewster rents kayaks but need a week’s notice (845-279-3100) to bring in boats from their other location. Check conditions and water levels on the Friends of the Great Swamp website, www.frogs-ny.org, before you go.
<<Green Chimneys Beach/Brewster>>
From Route 22 (heading north) turn right (east) on Doansburg Road. Park in lot right across from Green Chimneys campus, only available to the public after 5 on weekdays and weekends. For another launch, turn off Doansburg onto Gage Road before the campus and follow to first right which dead ends about a mile down in a cul-de-sac with a picnic table. Paddle upstream (north) from both launch sites.
<<Route 22 Bridge, Patterson>>
About a half-mile north of the intersection of Routes 22 and 164, you can park on the west side of the road. Follow the overgrown path down to the water at the north end of the pull off (watch out for poison ivy). Do not drive down what looks like an access road as it is private. Paddle in either direction.
<<Patterson Environmental Park, Patterson>>
This is my favorite. Turn left (west) off 22 onto 311 and through town. Turn left after train track onto Front Street, through train station lot, and towards Patterson Recreation Center. You will see a dirt road on the left after crossing back over train tracks to the Environmental Park. It dead-ends in a half mile at The Swamp. Paddle downstream (south…to your right), but remember you have to come back up unless you want to walk back as I did.
<<Wheeler Road, Wingdale>>
From the Wingdale train station, turn left on Wheeler Road and look for a sign on the right just past the railroad tracks. You can park/launch here, but only in high water. Paddle downstream.