For only $5 you can tour an early 19th century village, meet a master gardener, weaver, blacksmith, and woodworker, and hike a one mile path through some of the most brilliant cypress swamps you’ve ever experienced. $5 gets you into Furnace Town and permits you to walk on the Paul Leifer Nature Trail.
Near the base of the huge historic furnace, the Paul Leifer Nature Trail introduces guests to forested swampland that has been called one of the last true pieces of wilderness on the East Coast. This tract provided most of the resources that powered the Nassawango furnace for two decades. Today, bald cypress trees – along with oak, holly, sweet gum and common maple – rise skyward and raise their signature roots up from the wet forest floor and rust-colored creeks.
Isn’t it surprising to see bald cypress trees in Maryland? Most people only expect to see them in the bayous of the Deep South. The Eastern Shore is as far north as cypress grows. The mild coastal climate and bottom land soils mimic the more southern environment favored by cypress.
To survive constant inundation by water, the bald cypress has evolved special roots called ‘knees’. Cypress ‘knees’ reach above the water and saturated soil. They provide the roots with essential oxygen, which otherwise would not be available in the flooded soil. Bald cypress trees are also unusual because, although they bear cones like a pine tree, they drop their needles every fall. This is how they get thier name; ‘bald’ cypress trees.
The cypress trees seem to sit close to orange water, in rust-colored puddles, or next to creeks of flowing orangey waters. The water is a rusty color because it is saturated with iron from a seep. The iron-rich water from this spring turns a bright rusty orange color when exposed to oxygen in the air. It forms an oily looking film, then scum, which precipitates down to the sandy stream bed where it forms sandstone composite which has long been called “bog iron”.
Iron ore has formed in small deposits along the Nassawango Creek swamp for a distance of 2-3 miles upstream and was mined from 1830 – 1850. With its high phosphorous content, this ore was unable to compete with better quality hematite ores being developed in the Great Lakes area in the 1840’s.
The Paul Leifer Nature Trail meanders through the majestic swamp forest. The shades of orange soil and water are so neat next to the luscious green mosses, leaves, and flowering native plants. The trail runs through the forest of the Nassawango Creek. This area is part of the Nature Conservancy’s Nassawango Creek Nature Preserve. It has been protected in order to preserve the animals, plants, and communities that occur here.
The trail, a joint project of the Nature Conservancy and Furnace Town Foundation, has benches for you to rest or observe wildlife. The Nature Conservancy has been working in the Snow Hill area since 1978 and protects more than 9,300 acres of swamp land and forests. Lists of animals and plants which have been observed in the area are available to guests in the Furnace Town gift shop or information center.
The $5 entry to Furnace Town is beyond worth it – consider the hike a bonus. Remember, as always, to wear bug spray and be prepared to search for ticks after your hike.
To see photos of Furnace Town, check out the ShoreBread Photo Gallery. View photos of the Paul Leifer Nature Trail below.
Photos by Ami Reist.