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Only those lucky enough to spend time in Wilmington, North Carolina will see Greenfield Lake. That's because the small man-made reservoir is located within this Coast Region city and an integral part of Wilmington's charms. Created in 1730 when Dr. Sam Green dammed the outflow from a natural spring-fed wetland to power a mill, the beautiful little lake has matured into the city's most striking water feature.
Located about a mile from the Cape Fear River, Greenfield Lake covers about 100 acres in a long, narrow meander that includes several fingers and bays. Its nearly 200-year history has been punctuated with various attractions and activities as Wilmington grew around it. The lake once hosted an amusement park, a petting zoo, bathing beach and several other features that caused a trolley line to be built to reach it. Today, most of the old attractions are gone, including the trolley line, but the lake provides plenty of recreational opportunities and a unique ecology for wildlife viewing.
Boat rentals have been a favorite pastime on Greenfield Lake for over 100 years. Today's rentals consist of canoes, kayaks and paddleboats. These craft are perfect for the narrow, shallow lake and offer the best way to enjoy the many animals and birds that live here. Spanish moss-draped cypress command the lakeshore and venture into the water. Cypress knees and low shrubs dot the lake's surface in the shallowest portions, offering excellent shelter for fish and water-loving birds. Although the lake may be seven feet deep at its deepest points, shallow areas are often only a foot or so below the surface. Picnics and strolling along the lakeshore are popular; a walking/biking path 4.5 miles long was created around the lake that allows visitors a picture of the various environments framed by trees and tall grasses.
One public boat launch is located on the south shore, but is suitable only for small boats. A 2.5-horsepower limit encourages electric trolling motors, but many simply fish from paddleboats or kayaks. Fishing is rewarding for a small lake located in a major city. Pumpkinseed, yellow perch, crappie, bluegill, channel catfish and largemouth bass and bullhead join the primitive gar and bowfin lurking among the cypress knees. Some of the bass and crappie attain good size. Several fishing piers offer shore fishing, particularly popular among children.
Greenfield Lake was the local 'swimming hole' as late as the 1950s. However, increasing numbers of alligators in the water make swimming unsafe. Those who don't come for fishing or the lakeside views can enjoy a concert, performance or festival at the recently refurbished Greenfield Lake Amphitheater. Originally constructed in 1962, the amphitheater is located near the south end of the lake. The City of Wilmington purchased the lake and surroundings in 1925. City-owned Greenfield Park covers 250 acres holding tennis courts, a skate park, picnic tables and grills, concession stand, a 'fragrance garden' and many hiking and nature trails. During the Depression, WPA workers cleared underbrush, landscaped the area and constructed the roadway around the lake. Flower landscapes planted during the construction induced local citizens to donate azalea bushes to improve the roadside. Eventually, the lovely flowering shrubs became the focus of the annual Azalea Festival, first organized in the 1940s. The annual event draws thousands each year to the colorful festival.
Greenfield Lake is a favorite of bird watchers who view a variety of birds and waterfowl near the shore and nesting among the cypress trees. Depending on the season, birders can enjoy watching yellow-throated and prothonotary warblers, great-crested flycatchers, summer tanagers, green heron, great blue heron, little blue heron, great egret, anhinga, barred owl, wood duck and a number of more common birds. A part of the Wilmington Parks and Recreation Department, access to Greenfield Lake is free, although boat rental and pavilion reservations carry a fee. Cape Fear River Watch handles boat rentals and has worked to alleviate surface run-off of fertilizers that had recently impacted water quality. The use of environmentally-safe herbicides and solar-powered aerators have led to a cleaner lake and restoration of its unique ecology. Although there are no houses directly on the shoreline, several housing developments are located nearby.
The Wilmington area of the North Carolina coast is a popular vacation destination. The old city holds one of the country's largest historic districts, and walking tours to enjoy the architecture are popular, as is strolling the Riverwalk along the Cape Fear River. The scenic boardwalk is well supplied with small cafes, shops, elegant restaurants featuring seafood, and an excellent farmers market in the summer months. River cruises are available, from scenic routes to dinner cruises. The WWII battleship U.S.S. North Carolina, moored across the river, can be reached by water taxi and serves as a museum and memorial to the many sailors who served in the Pacific during that war. Wilmington holds several venues for arts and culture, including the historic Thalian Hall Center for the Performing Arts and the Cameron Art Museum. Families with children will enjoy the Children's Museum of Wilmington with its hands-on experiments and play opportunities. One rather unique museum in Wilmington is the Cape Fear Museum of History and Science. Originally formed to preserve Confederate artifacts after the Civil War, the museum has expanded to include exhibits of Native American artifacts, early pioneer life, agriculture and new discoveries in science.
Wilmington offers a full complement of lodgings, from large hotels to small guest houses, inns, motels and bed & breakfasts. Because the Atlantic Coast hugs the east edge of the city, holiday lodgings abound near popular shore areas including Carolina Beach, Wrightsville Beach and Kure Beach. All of the sun, fun and surf an ocean-side holiday offers can be found at Wilmington only a couple of miles from Greenfield Lake. Here the visitor can arrange chartered deep sea fishing, ecology hikes, kite-boarding lessons, island-hopping, or watch the 400+ participant Carolina's Cup paddleboard race. If Wilmington sounds like your ideal lifestyle, real estate is available in several areas in all price ranges. So, pack up the fishing gear, the binoculars and the birding guide and head for Wilmington for your next vacation.
* Statistics of the lake's size and depth are estimates from unofficial sources. Size estimates vary from 90 acres to 150 acres. No official documentation is found at present.
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