Nestled just outside the town of Canastota sits a 200 acre tract of land, that to some, is completely unknown. When considered by it’s name alone, the Great Swamp Conservancy doesn’t sound quite as appealing as the Boxing Hall of Fame. But, the nature preserve is a beautiful and pristine gem hidden in Upstate New York.

The Great Swamp Conservancy has been around since 1997, priding itself on being the only nature center in Madison County. Michael Patane founded the center in 1997, and served as the group’s Executive Director until earlier this year, when he handed the reins to Tiffany White.

White, who has been involved with the group since starting as a volunteer in 2008, says the aptly named center is nothing like what it seems.

“Swamps definitely have a negative connotation,” White said. “But, really, a swamp is just a wooded wetland. So, a lot of people will try to call an area a marsh or something like that, because a marsh sounds nicer than a swamp.”

The Great Swamp Conservancy sits on more than 200 acres of land and features a variety of habitats, offering something for everyone.

“We have wetland, we have grassland, we have shrub land and we have a mature forest,” White said. “So, it’s really cool to just be able to walk, in a matter of two hours, through all these different kinds of ecosystems. The swamp is definitely not the only thing we have.”

Avid animal watchers will also have a field day at the Great Swamp Conservancy, as the vast options of habitation provide homes to plenty of woodland creatures.

“They will see, most likely, muskrat because we have a lot of small depressions that are wetlands, and the muskrat like them because there’s cattails that grow and that’s what muskrats like to eat,” White said. “We have lots of different birds. I always see Great Blue Heron and osprey, lots of different songbirds. We also have beavers… you can see all of the trees that they’ve chewed down.”

Throughout the year, the center hosts a variety of nature-themed events to raise money and support for continued growth and improvement. Later this month, on September 15th, the group plans to host it’s annual Fall Migration Festival, with events, displays and a chicken barbecue.

Though the Great Swamp Conservancy relies on large events like the Migration Festivals to generate cash, they have other ways to continue providing a home to wild animals.

“We’re always looking for new volunteers and new members,” White said. “An individual membership is only $15, and that’s one of our biggest ways of getting funding and keeping us going. So, it’s really important to us. We’re [also] always looking for help, so there are definitely lots of ways to be involved here. That’s how I became involved. I was originally a volunteer, then interned here.”

New funds are deposited back into the conservatory, to continue raising awareness for both the local environment and the wildlife calling this area home. Currently, the group is looking to expand by building a museum.

“We have all of these artifacts that Mike Patane, the founder, has been collecting throughout the years and they just want to be displayed,” White said. “That’s our next step. And the first part of that is going to be just winterizing the event center itself, so we’ll go from there.”

But for White, the goal is to simply let the community and surrounding counties know they’re here providing a tranquil spot to relax and take it the quiet joy of nature.

“I feel like not enough people even realize we’re here or what we have, like that there’s trails here that you can hike on for free,” White said. “You can just come and walk them.”

It’s the constant improvement that White and her team take pride in, as they continue to polish one of Madison County’s greatest gems.