This Month in the Garden: Swan River Preserve-From Parking Lot to Native Habitat

Swan River Preserve
There is nothing more satisfying than seeing the result of an environmental movement by a town to restore land back to its natural state, while beautifying an area for residents to enjoy. The Swan River Preserve in the town of Patchogue, located on the South shore of Long Island, New York is the result of such an effort. With grants from the New York State Environmental Facilities Corporation and New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, a three year restoration project turned a vacant car dealership into a man-made wetlands preserve filled with native plantings, walking trails and a natural bio-filtration system for the cleansing of storm water. 
The movement started back in 2011 when a car dealership moved its location, leaving an abandoned building, which was further damaged by Tropical Storm Irene and Hurricane Sandy. A natural tidal stream had been hidden the entire time behind the dealership and to the north, Swan Lake could be found behind a pharmacy, appliance repair shop and other small businesses along Montauk Highway. Almost two decades before, one of the largest buildings in Patchogue at the time had come down, followed by the removal of the remaining dilapidated buildings several years later. A bridge was built over the spillway leading to a small parking area with trees in an effort to beautify the area. By this time, the town had purchased the property with open space funds and had obtained the grants to revitalize the site. The plan was to restore the area back to a natural state, bringing environmental awareness and allowing the public to enjoy the property once again. 
The first step was to remove the existing drainage pipe that had carried polluted storm-water (containing garbage, sand and road salt) straight into the Swan river. Ponds were constructed, with the first one designed to catch floating bits of garbage before the water hit the settling ponds, which filtered out the remaining dirt and silt. Special aquatic plants were added to the ponds to soak up harmful chemicals, while naturally cleaning the water before it entered the river. 
A walking trail was constructed of environmentally friendly permeable pavers, the town planted a vast selection of native trees, shrubs, wildflowers and wetland plants, and the park officially opened to visitors on November 15th of 2014. After some time, local wildlife gradually moved into the renovated area and now it is the home to geese, swans, mallards, gulls and other inhabitants. Even a blue heron and a belted kingfisher have been occasionally spotted.
The ponds have also gained new residents over the years, including frogs, turtles, and naturally reproducing fish, including Large-mouth Bass and Yellow Perch, and is stocked with Brook Trout and Rainbow Trout. The abandoned buildings and parking lot of the past with a once hidden tidal stream were now transformed into a vast 3.8 acre natural habitat.
The river is open to visitors to enjoy kayaking, so a permeable paved path leading down to the river was constructed to serve as a landing. Trees such as Fir, Spruce, Cedar, Swamp White Oak, Tulip Popular and Cottonwood can be seen along the river banks.
Wildflowers including (clockwise left to right) Rudbeckia, New England Aster, Goldenrod and Thistle can be seen as you walk along the paths throughout the park. Other natives include Purple Coneflower, Blue Vervain and Purple Bergamot. The wildflowers bloom throughout the seasons and are an invitation to pollinators.
A quaint bride crosses the Swan River, creating a serene place to stop and do some reflecting on nature. 
As you can see, there are native wildflowers that can be enjoyed everywhere…
as you cross over the bridge connecting the two sides of the man-made pond.
These local Mallards have made it home here.
The system is quite remarkable. The water goes through a stone weir under the bridge that crosses Montauk Highway and flows through a drainage structure which extends into the Swan River. The water is naturally bio-filtered by the wetlands themselves and creates a water source for the plants and animals that live there in return. Under the direction of L.K. McLean Associates P.C., the engineers had designed the park to maintain the wetlands indefinitely. 
The Swan River flows south from Swan Lake to Patchogue Bay. It is one of the few free-flowing, spring fed streams on Long Island that still exists as a relatively natural habitat. The wetlands provide a critical habitat for the plants and animals that co-exist here, as well as provide a beautiful place for residents to enjoy. 

As Always…Happy Gardening!

Author: [email protected] Guide to Northeastern Gardening, © Copyright 2018. All rights reserved