The swamp covered in water lilies. They don’t appear to be in full bloom. Photo: John Boyleemail@example.com)
Yesterday as I was driving east along US Highway 70 headed toward Black Mountain, I passed an unusual sight: to the immediate left on the road was a flat expanse covered with what looked like bright pink water lilies. On closer inspection, I realized I was looking at a swamp! We don’t have swamps here in the Blue Ridge Mountains! Or do we?
I’ve actually passed the swamp many times before without knowing it. It never really stood out to me before, since this stretch of the highway isn’t especially scenic. It’s filled with used car lots, run down buildings, and sad, outdated, nearly empty strip malls. During the winter and early spring, I had seen the swamp, but because of the vast amounts of rain we’ve had this year, I assumed it was just a flooded area and would probably eventually be drained and something built there.
But the presence of the water lilies made me realize this wasn’t just a flooded area that would eventually dry up, but an actual, bona fide swamp!
Photo: John Boylefirstname.lastname@example.org)
I was intrigued. I wanted to find out more. When I got home, I Googled “Swannanoa Swamp,” not expecting to find much, if any information. But there were actually two articles written about it, one in the Asheville Citizen-Times and another on the River Link website. There were also a few photos, which I have copied here.
Since both articles appeared to be written in the past year, I assumed the swamp was a new thing. I had never noticed it at all until this year, when I assumed it was just a flooded area. But it’s actually at least 60 years old!
Here is the quote from the “Answer Man” on the Asheville Citizen-Times article that explains the swamp’s (actually two connected swamps) unusual history:
…The KOA Campground in Swannanoa owns the swamp ponds on the north side of the road, which are actually strangely attractive with all the lily pads and bright pink lilies in bloom.
A co-owner of the KOA, who asked not to be identified, said a divider lies between the two ponds, and they do have a resident beaver. Campers aren’t allowed to fish in the swamps.
For their origin, she referred me to Swannanoa Valley historian Bill Alexander, whose family owned much of the property around there on the north side of U.S. 70.
“When Grovestone inquired about some property they would like to get rock out of, my father and my uncle gave them permission to dig some of that area out, just for the granite or whatever they could get out of there,” Alexander said. “They did that, and because they were getting something essentially for nothing, they said, ‘We’ll make you a lake.'”
This was in the early 1950s. The lake remains as the KOA Campground lake.
“There was a body of water that came from the original lake, and it didn’t have anywhere to go,” Alexander said. “The swamp was a run-over from the lake. That’s how that body of water, specifically, came to be.”
The article went on to explain that there have been no known health issues or problems because of the swamp’s presence, but that people exploring the area should take precautions and stay covered and use bug repellant to ward off mosquitoes, which breed there as they do in any wetland.
Swamp in winter or early spring. Credit: Riverlink.org
I didn’t get out of the car to explore the swamp myself, so I didn’t get a chance to take my own photos. I think you probably have to go in via the campgrounds, which are behind it. Maybe one day I will do that. These photos don’t show the brilliant pink of the water lilies. It’s not a large area. I’d say it’s about the size of a fairly small, but long pond.