I first saw the Cranesville Swamp on a map many years ago, and I’ve often thought about stopping for a visit. Recently, by chance, I discovered that it’s only about 12 miles from the Hazelton exit on I-68. I pass through that area pretty often, so it seemed like my destiny to finally see the swamp. Unfortunately, I got sidetracked both heading in and leaving, but the good people of Garrett County, Maryland helped me first find the swamp and later the interstate.
Cranesville Swamp is owned and maintained by The Nature Conservancy, and the site has grown to nearly 2000 acres in size. The swamp lies between two hills (at roughly 2500′ above sea level), creating a “frost pocket,” and the captured moisture creates a habitat similar to what one would find in Canada. There are more than fifty unique plants and animals that live on the preserve, and, surprisingly, these include sundews and cranberries.
The blue and orange trails form an outer loop for hikers, and the yellow and white trails cut across the center of the loop. With a little bit of imagination, all of the trails can be walked with a minimal amount of repetition, and the entire course can be traversed in a little over two miles. The elevation gain is pretty insignificant, but “swamp” generally means mud, so wearing hiking boots is definitely a good idea.
The highlight of the hike is a short loop across the actual swamp on a boardwalk. Here, and throughout the rest of the preserve, are numbered posts that correspond to a downloadable audio tour that can be found on the Cranesville Swamp/Nature Conservancy website. Taking the e-tour is something to be considered beforehand because cell phone service isn’t very good in the area.
A naturalist of any stature could spend hours (or much longer!) in the Cranesville Swamp, but I went about my business in a little over an hour. I’m not the world’s most-skilled woodsman, so the only things I identified were a couple of deer and squirrels and a small patch of ground pine. Nevertheless, this was a great side trip for a traveler heading from Morgantown to Martinsburg. I would like to come back better prepared to appreciate this wonderful little preserve. It’s definitely worth another look!