Migratory birds aren’t the only creatures that like to hang out here. Lake Mattamuskeet is one of BroJoe’s favorite places.
The lake is the largest natural lake in North Carolina, a wetlands depression filled only by rainwater and runoff from the surrounding land. Indian legend attributes its origins to a fire which burned for 13 moons. The lake is three to five feet below sea level and is quite shallow.
The refuge currently covers about 50,000 acres of woods, marshes, and water. The lake itself is said to be “18 miles long, 7 miles wide, and a swan’s neck deep.” Originally it covered over 120,000 acres and Indians crossed it in canoes up to 35-feet long. Paintings of this early activity were recorded along with a written description when artist John White traveled with a group of about 60 English settlers in July of 1585.
The surrounding soil is extremely rich in nutrients and has been farming country for hundreds of years. The soil has been compared to that along with Nile and the Mississippi Delta. Attempts to drain the lake to use the land for farming went on for over 200 years, beginning with slave labor and ending with work by the Civilian Conservation Corps. One attempt was based on a drainage project in Holland and though it was not successful, the area that was developed for this project on one side of the lake is still referred to as New Holland. Attempts finally ended when one of the private owners turned his part over to the US Government.
The lake is unique in that it has two different habitats, one plant-based and the other algae-based, co-existing stably side by side. It is a phenomenon so rare that only one other lake in the country has similar characteristics. The UNC Coastal Studies Institute is doing research by collecting core samples from the lake bottom in order to better understand this.
Over 800 species of birds and wildlife are found there at least part of the year.