Finzel Swamp Preserve
305 Cranberry Swamp Road, Frostburg, MD 21532
Access alert: As of January 2020, The Nature Conservancy has posted this notice on their Finzel Swamp website: “It has been brought to our attention that a new neighbor has installed a gate that blocks access to the preserve. Please know that we are working diligently with legal services to determine how to best resolve this issue. We will continue to provide updates on this matter as we have them.” If you are planning to visit, we suggest checking The Nature Conservancy website (https://www.nature.org/en-us/get-involved/how-to-help/places-we-protect/finzel-swamp/) for any updates before you go.
Finzel Swamp Preserve is an approximately 326-acre property owned by The Nature Conservancy (TNC). It is located partly in Garrett and partly in Allegany County in a topographic depression between Big Savage and Little Savage Mountains in what is called a “Frost Pocket.” This is a climatological phenomenon that is more common farther north, and results in cold air being trapped at the site. The result is a rich habitat containing many rare, cold-tolerant plants that are more common farther north. The cetrpeices of the preserve is Cranberry Swamp, which is a relict of the last Ice Age and is at least 15,000 years old. The American larch trees (Larix laricina) that occur here are unusual in Maryland, in fact constituting one of only two known stands in the state. Other northern plants that occur in Finzel Preserve include alder and red spruce.You can read more about the plant communities at Finzel in the Nature Conservancy’s Visitor Guide. The unusual plants in the swamp host an unusual set of breeding birds, including Alder Flycatcher and Northern Waterthrush.
From the parking area, take the obvious trail heading east to Cranberry Swamp. The trail and a series of boardwalks will carry you over the swamp and through rich vegetation to either side. The trail is usually dry but waterproof footwear is recommended, just in case. The trail continues past the swamp, crossing from Garrett County into Allegany County, arriving at a pond set amid an old scrubby field. The trail circles the pond and then will bring you back to the main trail to the parking area. If you’re an eBirder or a county lister, be sure to note that the parking area and the start of the trail through the swamp are in Garrett County, while the pond and old field are in Allegany County.
For first-time visitors to Finzel Swamp, we highly recommend downloading and following the Nature Conservancy’s Finzel Swamp Audio Tour, which will help you understand the special habitats found here. Another good resource is the MD Department of Natural Resource’s Guide to Finzel Swamp Natural Area.
There are two eBird hotspots for Finzel Swamp:
- Finzel Swamp Preserve is for the Garrett County portion of the preserve, with 196+ species
- Finzel Swamp – Field and Pond is for the Allegany County portion of the preserve, with 178+ species.
The combined list from these two hotspots has 205+ species. To see a bar chart combining reports from both hotspots, go to https://ebird.org/barchart?byr=1900&eyr=2020&bmo=1&emo=12&r=L454769,L1093522.
Finzel is a good place to see Sora and Virginia Rails, which are often found just past the third bridge on the boardwalk trail through the swamp. Occasionally, American Bitterns have been seen and Common Gallinule has occurred in spring. Breeding birds of interest include Ruffed Grouse, Alder Flycatcher, Veery, Northern Waterthrush, and Swamp Sparrow. Finzel is an outstanding place to look for migrating warblers in spring and fall, with 35 species reported. Warblers that were confirmed to breed at Finzel during the first and second Breeding Bird Atlas projects include Northern Waterthrush, Golden-winged, Nashville, Common Yellowthroat, Hooded, Blackburnian, Yellow, and Black-throated Green.
Pets are not permitted in Finzel Swamp.
While the boardwalks can accommodate wheelchairs, the boardwalks are interspersed with natural-surfaced trails that are often muddy and soft. Wheelchairs are not recommended.
Finzel Swamp is the focal point of the Finzel Swamp Important Bird Area (IBA), as designated by the National Audubon Society. For more information on this IBA, please see https://www.audubon.org/important-bird-areas/finzel-swamp. ◾ Finzel Swamp is also classified as a State Natural Area by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources; see http://dnr.maryland.gov/wildlife/Pages/NaturalAreas/Western/Finzel-Swamp.aspx. ◾ The local chapter of the Maryland Ornithological Society is the Allegany & Garrett Counties Bird Club, which hosts field trips in the region and meetings with informative presentations, all free and open to the public.
The Nature Conservancy has provided a free, downloadable audio tour with informative segments keyed to 25 stops on the trail. The audio tour covers a full range of plants and animals found at Finzel, as well as geology and the effects of humans on the landscape. Download the audio tour map and the audio segments to your cell phone before you go.
Gravel lot at the end of the Cranberry Swamp Road. Be cautious when driving to the Preserve; the roads may be covered with water or snow and it is possible to slide off the road.
Take I-70 west to 1-68 at Hancock. Continue on I-68 about 50 miles to Exit 29. Turn right at the end of the exit ramp, heading north toward Finzel on MD Route 546 (the section of road heading south is called Beall School Road; the northbound portion is Finzel Road, which is the road you want), and drive north about 1.8 miles. Just past a ballfield, turn right onto Cranberry Swamp Road and bear left at the fork. Parking for the preserve is on the left.
Features:BoardwalkFree - No Entry Fee at Any TimeHiking/Walking TrailsNative Plant Garden or Meadow/Pollinator PlantsParkingWater View
Type:Audubon Important Bird AreasState Natural Areas & Wildlands