Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge
Backstory and Context
Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge is a 50,180 acre refuge consisting of a 40,000 acre freshwater shallow lake and coastal wetland in Hyde County. It is part of North Carolina's Lower Coastal Plain. There are three theories about its origin – that it was the result of a meteor shower that created several shallow lakes in the area, that wildfires burned out the peat layers (a Native American legend that may have a scientific basis), or that it was created by the recession of coastal wetlands known as Carolina bays.
The two main features are Lake Mattamuskeet and Mattamuskeet Lodge. Lake Mattamuskeet is very shallow – averaging 1.5 feet (a range of 0.5-4 feet) in depth and 3-5 feet below sea level - but it is the largest natural lake in North Carolina. It is 14 miles long by 5 miles wide, and is currently fed by rainfall and natural runoff.
Mattamuskeet Lodge, near the current visitors center, was converted from what was the world's largest pumping plant when it was built in 1914. Capitalizing on the huge diversity of water fowl on the lake, the building was used as a hunting lodge from 1934 until 1974. The building went on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980 and the area became a wildlife refuge in 2007.
The pumping station was part of a major land reclamation and draining project in the early 20th century, an attempt to turn the area into farmland that was inspired by similar projects in the Netherlands. The lake and surrounding wetlands soon proved too large to make this practical. By 1934, the project had been abandoned and the land sold to the U.S. Government.
Today, Mattamuskeet's greatest importance is as a refuge for migratory waterfowl, large mammals, and coastal cypress and hardwood forest. Fifteen artificial impoundments and forest management techniques are used to create and enhance habitat for over 200,000 ducks, geese, swans, and birds of prey, as well as deer, red wolves, bobcats, black bears, otters, and many reptiles, amphibians, fish, and shellfish.
There are numerous observation decks along Highway 94, a causeway that crosses the lake. The refuge is also a major part of the annual coastal birding event Wings Over Water, through which it conducts tours of the lake in October and December. There are walking trails near the Lodge and visitors center. Some fishing and hunting are permitted. It is also possible to go boating, though only from March 1 through October 31. Since waterfowl winter in the area, some activities are restricted on the lake during that season.