Keeney Swamp

‘Second to none’ in wildlife

Editor's Note: During National Wildlife Week, March 15-21, it seems appropriate to feature in the pages of the Daily Reporter one of Allegany County’s most extensive wildlife habitats, Keeney Swamp. The story is by free-lance nature and history writer Francis X. Sculley, of Port Allegany, Pa.

By Francis X. Sculley

(Transcribed from the Wellsville Daily Reporter.)

There is absolutely nothing in Potter County to compare with Allegany County’s watery wastelands known as Keeney Swamp and Klossner’s Pond. To those who mention the neighboring Pennsylvania shire in the same breath with Labrador and Jackson Hole, the above claim borders on sacrilege. Potter County has but one natural lake, barely the length of a football field. Kenney Swamp would swallow the Potter County jewel and still have room for Lymnan Lake, a half dozen farm ponds and the bog south of Wharton.

From Birdsall to Garwoods, a distance of several miles, Route 408 is paralleled with a series of ponds, islets, bayous and the grass-covered channels of Keeney Swamp. From Garwoods clear to the Livingston County Line to the north, is another series of ponds, foremost of which is the sprawling Klossner’s Pond. The entire area is surrounded by a jungle of willows, alders, aspen, sumac and crabgrass.

The swamp and pond cover several square miles in area, surpassed in this area of the state perhaps only by the Montezuma swamp or the Iroquois Refuge. The Allegany swamp is second to none when it comes to its variety of wildlife. Beavers, mink, muskrats and possum are common throughout the great bog and there have been infrequent reports of otters, a rarity anywhere in southwestern New York.

If there is any place where the clown of the woods should exist, it would be in Allegany’s Allagash.

On the heights surrounding the great bog, there is a large area of abandoned farmland. It is loaded with apple trees, hawthorn shrubs and barberry bushes. All provide food for deer, wild turkeys, grouse and a host of other wild creatures.

On Aug. 7, 1980, this writer, in company of daughter, Elizabeth, visited the region and stumbled upon a yearling black bear feeding upon blackberries which are found in profusion among the old apple trees. It was the first bear we had ever seen in Allegany County.

Overlooking he hamlet of Swain is a hill the bears the improbable name of Rattlesnake Hill. It is however, not a misnomer, since banded timber rattlesnakes are fairly common on the ledges of the hill. It is claimed - with sound basis - the there is a large den of the buzzing reptiles somewhere atop the mountain. Rattlers make infrequent visits to Swain and at least three of them have been killed there within recent years. To those who have always believed that Potter County had a copyright on banded timber rattlers, the above revelation may come as a shock.
Klossner’s Pond is loaded with bullheads and bluegills, as well as a dozen different varieties of scrap fish. In early spring, the pond is ringed with bonfires of scores of fishermen who delight in night angling. Few area fisheries get the pressure that Klossner’s Pond receives, and few produce as many good catches.
All of the ponds and channels are loaded with frogs. Almost everyone in the region has known the delights of a frog-leg dinner upon at least one occasion. The wetlands are also home to some hefty snapping turtles. During the month of June, they can be seen crossing Routes 408 and 70 in search of conjugal bliss.

In the early spring - usually on a warm rainy evening - the residents of the area are treated to a concert by a tremendous choir of hyla peepers. The sound of their reed-like trills can be heard for a mile or two.

Following the evening concert comes the annual visitation of large flocks of ducks, geese and swan. The din of the quacking and honking will sometimes awaken sleeping residents of Swain and Garwoods. Few complain, however. It is a most joyous sound.

Many consider swamps and bogs to be ugly, but all have a certain wild, haunting beauty. Anyone who has seen Keeney Swamp when the marsh marigolds are in flower will understand. The showy yellow flowers with velvety green leaves literally carpet the wetlands.

To those who revel in the exotic, one whiff of the fist-sized water lily is enough to send one into orbit. It is one of America’s most exotically fragrant flowers. It shares yellow water space with the odorless yellow water lily.

To sum it all up, there are few places in the area like this jungle. There is no better time to visit Keeney and Klossner than in the spring. Be sure to bring a camera, and don’t forget the fishing rod.