“Indigo Swamp”

Swampy section of the canal below Indigo Neck

Swampy section of the canal below Indigo Neck

I’d like to think that everybody is a little bit biased on some subject.  With that in mind, I can’t imagine anybody frequenting the C&O Canal NHP and not having a certain spot that’s a bit more appealing than the rest.  My favorite four.something miles are between Sideling Hill Creek and Fifteen Mile Creek, and one place in particular comes to mind–the wide, swampy section just downstream from Lock 57 and the Indigo Neck Hiker/Biker Campground.  The area is a haven for ducks and other birds, turtles, frogs, and–apparently–an occasional beaver. I’m interested in the ecological history of the area, so (as usual) I defer to Thomas Hahn’s Towpath Guide to the C&O Canal: 138.63 Fine swamp with dark brown water has developed in canal bed.  Many wood ducks and ducklings sighted May 1972.  Beaver sighted several years ago.  Floodplain lush with spring flowers; spotted turtles slide into the swamp as one approaches; pileated woodpeckers drum in the surrounding forest; and and the towering mountain side across the river finishes a suitable backdrop.  This is typical of many wild sections in the next 40 mi.  Opportunities for nature study or for absorbing the refreshment of virtual solitude are many (186).

Beaver activity from 2010

Beaver activity from 2010

Shortly after Candee and I took up level walking for the C&O Canal Association, we noticed beaver activity on the towpath side of the swamp.  These trees were chomped on at the time, but the busy critter suddenly abandoned the project.  Today, the trees are leafless and dead and will probably fall into the swamp in the years to come.  Surprisingly, beaver activity has been limited in the area over the past three or four years, but the rest of this wetland has thrived for the most part.

In spring, I’ve seen the water as high as towpath level, but once or twice in the driest part of the summer, the swamp has dried up completely.  Generally, the ducks and ducklings are long gone by then, and I assume that the turtles make their way to the river in these desperate times.  The one good thing about the dry seasons has been the opportunity to guestimate how big the swamp is.  Back in the day, the canal was generally 60-80′ wide and 6′ deep, but at high water, this section appears to be 8-10′ deep and–perhaps–150′ wide.

Another tree bites the dust!

Another tree bites the dust!

As Hahn stated, the water is generally the color of weak tea,  probably due to the many trees and leaves that have tumbled into the swamp over the years.  As a kid I was led to believe that all really big trees are hundreds of years old, but there are some massive specimens along the towpath and in the prism–here and elsewhere.  The thing is that none of them can be more than ninety years old. Otherwise, the towropes would have been rendered useless in the latter days of the C&O, and boats couldn’t have plied the waters of the canal.  In general, this section of the C&O doesn’t offer a very good depiction of what was, but it is a great example of  what it has become–a sanctuary for a wide variety of flora and fauna.  This is just a great place to take a hike, but PLEASE remember the mosquito repellant!

The day-lillies flower every year near the Lockhouse 57 ruins

The day-lillies flower every year near the Lockhouse 57 ruins

 

Be Sociable, Share!

2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Jamie on July 21, 2014 at 8:29 pm

    Nice pictures and a fine write-up. I’m looking forward to the day when I can see this section of the C&O.

    Reply

    • Posted by LevelWalker on July 21, 2014 at 8:50 pm

      Recently, while I walked this area, I kind of struck out–other than numerous ducks and half-grown ducklings in the swamp. Generally, the deer and squirrels are pretty numerous between the aqueducts. The last time the canal/swamp dried up, I had an epiphany: I was surprised at how deep the water can get in the spring. Along the trail, the view from the Sideling Hill Creek Aqueduct is pretty amazing, and if you walk far enough upstream, you can even have a beer at Bill’s before making the return trip. It’s a cool place!

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>