Visiting our Ice Age Past at Cranesville Swamp

Cranesville Swamp Preserve is a 1,600-acre preserve situated in Preston County, WV and Garrett County, MD. The swamp formed 15,000 years ago during the last Ice Age, when glaciers inched close but never reached Maryland. The climate warmed and the glaciers retreated but many of the boreal plants remained. Nestled in a mountain valley bowl known as a frost pocket, where colder conditions still prevail and the climate is cold enough for these “ice age” plants.

I was really intrigued the first time I heard about this swamp — a colleague at work mentioned to me she and her husband were going to check it out during, it turns out, the same day we were there. After seeing it in early fall, we both determined that we would try to return in about 6 or 7 months, to see it as spring was breaking from the winter cold.

Boreal bogs formed thousands of years ago when ponds filled with peat moss. Many bogs were mined to use their peat as a soil additive. Those that survived provide a glimpse of what much of North America looked like during the ice ages.

This site was protected by The Nature Conservancy in stages, beginning in 1960. Since that time, the Conservancy has acquired more than 1700 acres which will be held in trust in perpetuity.

Deep within the bog, small pockets of virgin forest remain, somehow missed by the logging locomotive named the Swamp Angel that passed directly through the wetland in the late 1800s. Red spruce and white pine trees have been restored by the thousands and the preserve now supports thriving populations of wildlife. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot a beaver or possibly a bear, or perhaps a water shrew or owl.

All told, 19 different plant communities occur in the preserve, ranging from shrubby wetlands to hardwood forest. Management focuses on maintaining the visitor facilities, reestablishing red spruce, invasive plant control, and managing a permitted hunting program to control the deer population.

We visited in early autumn, when the leaves began to turn glorious colors.

There is a small parking area, with a kiosk that provides a map roughly indicating the various trails. You want to make your way to the board walk, and to do that you can take the blue trail which leads directly out of the parking area (but isn’t visibly marked as the blue trail) or you can take the orange, yellow or white trail — you will eventually get there.

Getting there: I couldn’t find a street address, only coordinates: 39.524758,-79.480838

But I also found directions, which were pretty good: Take I-70 west to I-68 at Hancock. Continue on I-68 about 65 miles to Exit 14. Follow US 219 (Garrett Hwy) south for 19 miles. Turn right (west) on Mayhew Inn Road, and after 1.4 miles turn left on Bray School Road. In 1.6 miles at the “T” intersection, turn right on MD 15 (Oakland Sang Run Road). After 1 mile, turn left on Swallow Falls Road and follow for 2.6 miles to a sign for Youghiogheny Mountain Resort (I didn’t see the sign, btw, but Cranesville Road is well-marked). At the sign, take a hard right on Cranseville Road. Take next left turn onto Lake Ford Road. Stay to the right at the fork at Feathers (road or street); Cranesville Swamp is 0.2 miles further.

Enjoy the drive — from Hancock on, you’ll encounter some lovely scenery, especially after you exit off of I-68. And as with other posts, especially those about fall foliage, sometimes the drive is the thing, the entire point. Although not the case in this post, the beauty of the surrounding countryside was a welcomed bonus to a lovely day.

Hours: The preserve is open year-round during daylight hours.
Websites: Because of it’s location straddling two states, there are several websites providing information about Cranesville Swamp. and

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3 Replies to “Visiting our Ice Age Past at Cranesville Swamp”

  1. It's a truly magical place, and this podcast episode will "suck you in" and leave you feeling like you just stepped back into a "boreal bog" back in the Pleistocene Ice Age!

  2. Do yourself a favor and go on a full moon night in mid summer. The experience is one you won't soon forget. The swamp is alive at night.

  3. What a fantastic (and slightly scary) idea!

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