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Lake Waccamaw in southeastern North Carolina is estimated to have formed around 250,000 years ago, although the exact origin of its formation is uncertain. One theory is that the lake basin was formed after a peat fire in prehistoric times. Old charred tree stumps have been found to support this theory. Another theory claims that meteorites formed Lake Waccamaw and a group of lakes known as the Bladen Lake Group, since all lakes are oval and angled in the same way. Lake Waccamaw is about 7 miles long, 5 miles wide, with 14 miles of shoreline. Fed by Big Creek, three smaller creeks, and the Friar Swamp drainage, Lake Waccamaw's light caramel color is indicative of its rich plant and animal life.
A more fanciful theory for the lake's creation can be found in a local legend which claims that Lake Waccamaw was once a huge mound of flowers, watched over by a beautiful Indian princess. One besotted Indian brave asked the princess to marry him - she refused, which unfortunately led to a war between the local tribes. Rather than marry the brave and give up her flowers, the princess chose to die on the spot and turned the flowers into a huge lake. A legend maybe, but locals claim that there is still a spot where no flowers will grow.
The lake covers almost 9,000 acres in sparsely populated Columbus County in the southeastern part of North Carolina, about 25 miles from the border with South Carolina. Part of the appeal of Lake Waccamaw and the surrounding area is its feeling of isolation. The nearest large town is Wilmington, about 40 miles away to the east. Several small towns lie along Highway 130 which runs north of the lake: Bolton, Hallsboro and Whiteville. Residential development dots the lake shoreline, except for the Lake Waccamaw State Park at the south end of the lake. The State of North Carolina owns the lake and the Lake Waccamaw Dam. The spillway dam, built by the State in 1926, prevents water levels from lowering to dangerous levels during periods of drought.
Lake Waccamaw is referred to as a Carolina Bay for the sweet bay, loblobby bay, and red bay trees growing around its shoreline. Most Carolina Bays have naturally high levels of acid that make the water unable to sustain diverse acquatic life. However, the limestone bluffs along Lake Waccamaw's north shore neutralize the lake's water, thereby supporting a rich diversity of flora and fauna. Because of its distinctive geology, Lake Waccamaw contains animals and plants found nowhere else in the world, including the Lake Waccamaw killfish and rare plants including the green-fly orchid, the water arrowhead, and Venus hair-fern. In nearby Green Swamp Preserve, you may be lucky enough to see the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker, the American alligator, the eastern Diamondback rattlesnake, and the Bachman's sparrow. And on certain hot summer days, you may see the natural phenomenon in which a blue wave advances across the lake, bringing a welcome cooling breeze.
Outdoor activities are plentiful at Lake Waccamaw and the 1700 acre State Park which borders the south end of the lake. Boating is popular from the two public boat launches that access the lake. The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (WRC) operates one of the ramps; Columbus County operates the other. For the avid angler, the WRC stocks Lake Waccamaw with largemouth bass, bluegill, shellcracker, and redbreast sunfish. The lake contains 52 species of game and non-game fish. There are also four primitive campsites and several picnic spots dotted around the lake. The Lake Waccamaw State Park offers four hiking trails with varying levels of difficulty. The Sand Ridge Nature Trail is a .75-mile loop that begins and ends near the picnic area. The Loblolly Trail is a one-mile loop that begins and ends at the visitor's center. The 2.5-mile Pine Woods Trail winds through diverse flora from the picnic area to the visitor's center. The 5-mile Lake Trail begins at the visitor's center and follows the shoreline to the Waccamaw River.
Lake Waccamaw and Lake Waccamaw State Park can be enjoyed year round. However, if the weather isn't cooperating, there is one indoor attraction. The small, but fascinating Depot Museum is housed in an early 20th century railroad depot, a legacy of the railroad's early influence. Apart from various railroad memorabilia, exhibits include fossils from the lake, artifacts from Indian and European settlers in the area, as well as a 300 year old Indian canoe.
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