Lake Waccamaw offers lessons in history and nature
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At three miles by five miles, Lake Waccamaw covers nearly 9,000 acres. It is what is known as a Carolina bay.
"There are over 500,000 Carolina bay lakes. This is the largest bay lake," said Toby Hall with Lake Waccamaw State Park.
Carolina bays are oval shaped bodies of water that all have similar characteristics.
"You'll notice they all predominantly go the same direction, northwest to southeast," said Hall.
Several theories exist for how the Carolina bays were formed, from meteors to sinkholes. The most popular at this point is the oriented lake theory.
"Ocean waters receded to where they are today. Winds from the north-northeast came in and actually carved out these oval shapes," said Hall.
Most figure they are called Carolina bays because bays are bodies of water. That is a misconception.
"It does get its name from bay vegetation, the three trees that grow typically around Carolina bay lakes," said Hall.
The northern shore of Lake Waccamaw is limestone, which is exposed in several locations. That gives the water an unusual neutral PH and a great deal of biodiversity.
"There's 54 species of fish, 15 species of mussels and clams and 10 species of freshwater snails," said Hall. "They have seven endemic species that live only in Lake Waccamaw."
Because the neutral PH is so critical to the lake’s ecosystem, the state park recently created a team of monitors to make certain the water is not becoming too alkaline or acidic.
"That is a very fragile balance in maintaining the water's chemistry out here on Lake Waccamaw," said Hall.
The tea color of the lake is not related to the PH level. It is generated as the four creeks, which feed the lake, pass through decaying vegetation.
There’s plenty to learn at Lake Waccamaw State Park from early Native American presence and the discovery of several dugout canoes that are being kept under the surface of the lake to a new display featuring the bones of a baleen whale found in the lake.
"It's been carbon dated to about 2.8 million years ago, which actually shows that, yes this was ocean at one time," said Hall.
Put everything together and it adds up to what many think is a special place.
"This is a gem for North Carolina," said Hall. "The importance of its protection and the continuation for future generations is what we strive for here at the lake."