Lake Waccamaw is a unique fresh water lake located in Columbus County in North Carolina. The lake is oval in shape measuring roughly 5.2 miles (8.4 km) by 3.5 miles (5.6 km) covering 8,938 acres (3,617 ha) surface area with an average depth of 7.5 feet (2.3 m) and a shoreline of about 14 miles (23 km). The marginal 70% of the lake bottom is composed of clear sand, whereas the central 30% is overlaid with a deposit of fibrous and pulpy peat. The lake is fed by four creeks: First, Second, Third, and Big Creeks. The lake outlet forms the Waccamaw River which flows southeasterly to empty into the Atlantic Ocean near Georgetown, South Carolina
It is the largest of the natural Carolina Bay Lakes (Bladen Lake Group). The term "Bay" Lake stems from the abundance of bay trees (Magnolia virginiana L., Gordonia lasianthus Ellis, and Persea spp., Frey, 1949) growing in the numerous swampy oval depressions on the Carolina coastal plain. The lake has been estimated to be 15,000 -30,000 years old, although older fossils have been found upon the shores, and in 2008 a whale fossil was found in the lake. Scientists have removed the bones of a whale that they say may date back 1 - 3 million years. The skull of the whale has been restored and is currently on display at Lake Waccamaw State Park through longstanding loan from the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.
The lake is fed mainly by Big Creek and the surrounding swamp lands. The organic matter from the decaying vegetation of the swamps makes the water tea-colored. The lake is full of life. It even contains some species of fish, such as the Waccamaw silverside, that are native only to Lake Waccamaw.
Lake Waccamaw has a broad, flat bottom of gyttja (mud) and peat encircled by sandy shallows and submerged sandy terraces that extend up to 500 m offshore. A natural sand bar, which extends along the northwest shore between a fringing cypress swamp and the main lake, was supplemented with spoil dredged to form a neighboring canal in 1946 and developed with private residences. Big Creek delivers tea-colored water from the large cypress and gum tree swamp at the northeast corner of the lake, and the Waccamaw River emerges from the southern shore. A dam at the outlet built in 1926 now regulates lake levels, which used to fall by as much as a meter during dry spells, occasionally exposing the sand terraces. The dam was renovated in 2008 to help restore control of the lake water levels.
Unlike most of the other Carolina Bay lakes, Lake Waccamaw gets the majority of its water from the surrounding swamp instead of direct rain water. A limestone bluff along the north shore filters the water and reduces the acidity levels, making the lake ideal for a wide range of aquatic life.
The lake was established as a North Carolina State Lake in 1929, and it is managed by the adjacent Lake Waccamaw State Park.
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