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Winter In The Alabama Swamp


West Jackson Corners is a small village built by members of East Shelby Community Bible Church.  A namesake of the original settlement, it comes complete with a town hall, general store, water wheel, black smith shop, open hearth and much more.

            In the north east corner of West Jackson Corners sits an oversized tepee. Hanging above the tepee entrance is a sign reading “Swamp Stories.” The tepee was built by Charlie Ralph and during church festivities like “Old Tyme Days held in July or December’s “Christmas at West Jackson Corners,” Charlie can be found inside the tepee, probably warming his hands over a fire and more than willing to share local swamp lore with those who enter.

            Charlie grew up in the Alabama swamp, his homestead was in the area now occupied by the Swallow Hollow foot trail on the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge. Charlie’ father also farmed a small parcel of their land, but only after clearing the standing timber. Charlie and his father began by cutting down large trees then using their team of Clydesdales to pull the stumps from the ground.

            In his youth Charlie and friends swam in the waters of Oak Orchard Creek just down the road from his home. On those outings they brought along a jar of salt – for the removal of leeches.   

            Generating income was tough in swamp country, so when a city fellow offered to pay Charlie and his friends for any water snakes they caught, they were happy to oblige.  Charlie never did find out what the man did with the snakes, only that he was willing to pay for them.

            In his early years Charlie traipsed around the swamp with a fellow he knew as “Trapper Jim.” Originally a cook on a Great Lakes tug boat, Trapper Jim took Charlie under his wing while he made the rounds along his trap line and also while acting as caretaker for a group of duck hunters from Buffalo who at the time owned a large tract of the vast wetland.

A mantle of ice lines a stretch of Oak Orchard Creek. This is the same stretch where Charlie Ralph used to swim in his youth. It is still a popular embarking point to access the swamp’s interior.





Several weeks from now, when thousands of waterfowl descend on the swamp, this empty nesting box will house a clutch of ducklings.  











One of the many species of fur bearers inhabiting the swamp, this fox emerges from cover.

The swamp has become popular with outdoor enthusiasts over the years. Birdwatchers, canoeists, kayakers, hunters, fishermen, hikers and nature photographers frequent the area. Come winter, the area takes on a different look. While somewhat desolate at this time of year, the swamp is perhaps more picturesque, and on calm, windless days, certainly quieter. But a couple months from now, in late winter or early spring, the spring peepers will make their presence known by celebrating the spring rain. Dormant for months, their nighttime chorus will herald the change of seasons. Soon afterward the swamp will once again be bustling with activity. 


lazario Ladou

nice, I enjoyed it.

I enjoy the refuge
I sometimes think we should shine a spotlight on these natural places we have
but then
I dunno, they may become well known for being well known instead of for what they have to offer those that search
that could be argued but I'm not the type that calls a cliche a cliche

Jan 15, 2009, 1:55am Permalink

Laz, thank you and I agree. Was it Throreau who said something like,"I would rather sit on a pumpkin and have it all to myself than be crowded on a velvet cushion?"

Jan 15, 2009, 8:41am Permalink
Jeffrey R. Bartz

Jim, another gem of an article!
The picture of the fox is impressive! They are difficult creatures to catch unaware, and this one looks right at home looking for dinner.

Jan 15, 2009, 10:19am Permalink
Laura Scarborough

Jim, hope we can get coverage of this area in the spring/summer as well. Have you ever seen any of the Bald Eagles flying around over there? I know there is was a research project for swans out there. Love the picture of the fox.

Jan 15, 2009, 3:41pm Permalink
Gabor Deutsch

I agree laz.
I loved living in the southerntier and visiting the Kinsua Dam area. Best trout fishing ever till everyone found out. Beavers used to play with our bobbers and steal fish. Wild turkey walk right by you sometimes. I bet now its filled with people, oops not so much with this weather.
Thank You to Jim !

Jan 15, 2009, 4:44pm Permalink

Laura, it was a couple autumns back when my son-in-law and I saw two Bald Eagles while canoeing a stretch of Oak Orchard Creek between Knowlesville Rd. and Sour Springs Rd. They made repeated passes over the creek at fairly close range.

You're welcome Gabor!

Jan 15, 2009, 5:09pm Permalink
Dave Olsen

Yes, Thanks Jim for the pictures, especially the fox. I live in the town of Alabama and the refuge is a great local treasure, no doubt!!

Jan 15, 2009, 5:38pm Permalink

Dave, thanks for your comment. I've got a question for you: Being that you live nearby the swamp, have you ever canoed the swamp as daylight fades into night and the nocturnal sounds kick in?

Jan 15, 2009, 8:19pm Permalink

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