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Mysterious Bays, Forbidding Jungle & Unique Ecosystems | By Collin McGuire

The area is covered by the “Carolina Bays,, elliptical depressions that have been a true geological mystery for the science community. There are more than half a million of them in the eastern United States, from New Jersey to Florida. These oval depressions are more abundant in the Carolinas, thus their name, and range from three acres to thousands of acres. Many are peat-filled bogs and some are filled with water, forming clear, beautiful lakes. The most accepted theory among the scientists debating the formation of the bays is that a large shower of meteorites smashed into the coastal plain. In fact, this theory has been postulated by Dr. W. E. Prouty, former head of the Department of Geology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Others believe that the action of wave and wind, the natural erosion, have formed the bays. No theory has been universally accepted.

All Carolina Bays are unusual, yet Lake Waccamaw is unique. It covers more than 9,000 acres and has 14 miles of shoreline, and gets its water from the Friar Swamp drainage instead of being dependent on rainwater like most of the other open water bays. Most Carolina Bays also have naturally high levels of acidity, making the water unable to sustain any fish or plant life, but limestone outcrop along the Waccamaw north shore neutralizes and reduces the acidity levels, making it ideal for a diversity of aquatic species.

Lake Waccamaw State Park, established in 1976, includes the lake, which is considered one of the most beautiful water bodies in the world, and almost 1,600 acres of land, primarily on the wild southern shore, portions of which have never been fully explored.

Seeing majestic Lake Waccamaw, it is not surprising to learn that John Bertram, the famed Philadelphia botanist, during a visit in 1734 called it “the pleasantist place I ever seen in my life.”

The lake’s water quality contributes to an interesting mix of animal life in the park, and several species are found only in or around the lake and nowhere else in the world. Some of these endemic species include Waccamaw silverside, Waccamaw killifish and Waccamaw darter and a diversity of unusual mollusks. The Waccamaw spike and the Waccamaw fatmucket are among the 15 species of mussels and clams found in the lake.

On a warm day, you can see a variety of lizards and even an alligator basking in the sun.

At least five species on the state’s rare plant list, the Venus-hair fern, greenfly orchid, seven-angled pipewort, narrowleaf yellow pond lilly and water arrowhead, can be found at Lake Waccamaw. The park is a paradise for all nature lovers and a true haven for bird watchers; you might also catch a glimpse of a white-tailed deer or fox, or, with luck, you might even see a bobcat or black bear.

The park offers some campsites, which are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Organized groups may make reservations. For individuals, the fee is $9 per site, per day. Picnic tables, fire circles and pit toilets are nearby. All supplies, including drinking water, must be brought to the sites.

Nearby, you will find a 140-square-mile wilderness of pocosins, wetlands and savannas, the Green Swamp, a botanical wonder. Within this forbidding jungle, portions of which have never been seen by the eyes of man, are stands of ancient cypress, impenetrable thickets of vines, and meandering creeks and streams. The Green Swamp, designated by the U.S. Department of the Interior as a natural landmark in 1974, is an area of major biological significance in our state.

Named after John Green, the man to whom the expanse was granted by the Crown, the swamp was considered worthless until the twentieth century. Today, most of the swamp is owned by Federal Paper Board Co. of New Jersey. In 1977 the company donated land to the North Carolina Nature Conservancy for the establishment of the Green Swamp Preserve, which is located five miles north of Supply in Brunswick County. Subsequent acquisitions by the Nature Conservancy have increased the size of the preserve, making it one of the largest and most significant wetland areas in North Carolina.

Much of the preserve is open to the public, but do not venture into the swamp without an experienced guide, since numerous dangers, such as quicksand, peat holes, dense undergrowth, poisonous snakes, alligators, bobcats and black bears, have swallowed the unwary explorer in the past. For more information on the Green Swamp, contact the Nature Conservancy.

If, after visiting this wonderful example of North Carolina unique ecosystem, you want to enjoy some local seafood, try “Dale’s Seafood” at Lake Waccamaw. Located at 100 Lake Shore Drive, the broiled seafood is expertly prepared but the specialty is fried seafood. View the largest natural lake in our state through 17 windows. You might even spot an alligator in the nearby canal.

Celia Maguire is a local travel writer and former owner of Global Travel and Tours.