In southeastern North Carolina lies a strange phenomenon, the bay lakes. Although there are several, some dry ,some boggy, some full of water, three were easy to hike to. Jones Lake State Park contained two, Jones and Salters and Lake Waccamaw was a park of it’s own. Jones Lake S.P. was not large but was next to Badin Lakes State Forest so there was a lot of hiking. Finally a good flatland venue!
First lets learn about the Carolina Bays, what they are and where they came from.
There are about 500,000 of these depressions in the Atlantic Coastal Plain with varying names depending on the state or area they are in.Most are small pondlike depressions but others are medium to large lakes. The groups run in a generally northwest to southeast direction with the southeastern shore higher with a build up of white sand. The larger bays are surrounded by pocosin , a thick area of underbrush growing on a floating peat bed. The ground is usually moist and lies upon a perched water table; a water table trapped above the general water table of the area. Jones and Salter have no inlet or outlet. Waccamaw flows over a small dam to form the Waccamaw River. One other feature of the bays; they are shallow. For example Waccamaw is a 9000 acre lake with an average depth of 7.5 feet. No one really knows how the bays were formed but one theory advances that they were formed by underwater currents in the time this area was part of the sea. Of course others theorize that they have some extraterrestrial formation although this has been mostly debunked.
Jones Lake State Park, Elizabethtown NC
As stated above Jones Lake State Park encompasses two of the larger Carolina Bay Lakes. Jones and Salter Lakes are about the same size,at 2200 acres. A trail circles Jones Lake and on the backside an out and back takes you to Salters.
Jones Lake has a four mile trail encircling it and through the Bay Forest/ Pocosin and there is a one mile out and 1 mile back trail to Salter Lake.
On the back side of Jones Lake the wide sandy path also intersects trails leading into the Bladen Lakes State Forest.
I took a left into the forest on the Butler Trail. By taking this trail and the Edgar Davis Trail I was able to add a couple of miles to my hike. The Edgar Davis Trail took me through Cedar Bay one of the dry bay lakes.
Bladen Lakes State Forest is the Largest State Forest in North Carolina. It covers about 33,000 acres. Within the forest are several of the dry bays. The forest is predominately Loblolly Pine. As you see the Butler Trail is drivable. Sadly there are signs along the trail warning of fines and imprisonment for taking the pine straw from the forest. Must have been a problem at one time as pine straw is a popular mulch in North Carolina.
I reentered the Bay Trail and had to re-trace my steps a bit to the Salters Lake Trail.
The Salters Lake Trail passed through pocosin and some pine savannah areas. It was about a mile to Salters Lake ending at the only access point, as this lake has not been commercialized.
there was a small picnic area here so I decided to have a snack in this very remote place. On the way back I turned left onto the wide sandy Bay Trail but soon the trail took a hard right turn into the pocosin.
The pocosin was unbelievably thick and I was thankful for the trail. I would dread the thought of bushwhacking through that stuff. In the pocosin were several wet areas where the water comes to the surface known as seeps.
The seeps are what keep the pocosin so damp. The soils are usually thick black muck sometimes several inches thick. The growth is small shrubs and water pines although some loblolly and longleaf pines thrive in the pocosin. Pocosin are know for their ability to let two rare plants thrive, the Venus flytrap and and the pitcher plant.
In the pocosin a couple of short trails were cut to the lake shore. These both had gorgeous views.
I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the Spanish moss draped trees. Around the base of these water Cypress are what are known as Cypress knees. Their purpose is not really known. It was once thought that they helped aerate the root system but the trees continue to thrive when the knees are removed.
That was my introduction to these amazing land features.