A post-wildfire landscape awaits tourist

A post-wildfire landscape awaits tourist

17 May 2009

published by hamptonroads.com

USA — Early this spring, Deloras Freeman, visitor services specialist at the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, was on one of the tour buses that winds its way through the old, old swamp from May through September.

When the bus rounded a bend in the thick woods, Freeman said she could almost hear an audible gasp from the back.

Since last summer, when a wildfire burned for several months deep in the swamp, a beautiful, chartreuse-colored blanket of moss had carpeted the floor of the swamp in a small area.

Freeman said she’s been working in the swamp for several years, but she’s never seen anything like it.

The awesome color has all but disappeared now, as tiny trees, wildflowers and greenery pop up more frequently from the swamp floor in the burned areas, she said. But visitors who take advantage of the nature tour through the burned areas could be in store for similar surprises.

“There’s already green growth in the areas where the fire didn’t burn the roots,” Freeman said, “but in some areas, we really don’t know what’s going to come back.”

It was a rainy day, and the swamp was mostly gray, she said. The landscape was monotonous, until that bright burst of color popped from around the bend.

This summer visitors to the swamp can enjoy the bus tour – on Thursdays and Saturdays – twice a day, at 9:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. The tours are sponsored by the Suffolk Department of Tourism, allowing anyone to see the aftermath of the 2008 wildfire that swept through the swamp and burned acres of forest.

The Great Dismal Swamp, which spreads across Suffolk, Chesapeake and northeastern North Carolina, formed after the ocean that once covered inland areas as far west as Suffolk descended. Workers at the refuge have found plenty of gigantic clam shells to prove that, Freeman said.

The remnants of the old sea that was there are still obvious, Freeman said. And, if all of the organic material hadn’t sunk to the bottom, there might have been evidence of the wooly mammoths and other pre-historic animals some believe roamed the swamp.

The tour, guided by a naturalist, follows a path for six miles in either direction from the refuge center, Freeman said. The bus stops so visitors can walk the boardwalk for about a mile.

“You get to feel what the swamp feels like,” she said. “It’s so quiet back there.”

The fire last summer was started June 8 by a spark from a piece of logging equipment and burned through late October.

“It didn’t grow after July,” Freeman said. “It burned down into the peat.”

But now, the swamp is coming back, being reborn.

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