My grandma was from Delco, so I spent a little time in Columbus County growing up. Mama took me out there occasionally to visit family or attend funerals. Somehow, none of those trips ever included a stop at the county’s most notable feature: Lake Waccamaw.
So when Belle and I spent a day in Columbus County recently, we took a side trip to see the lake and explore the state park.
The History of Lake Waccamaw
Sometimes credited as being the oldest lake in North Carolina, Lake Waccamaw is estimated to be up to 30,000 years old. It was once part of the Green Swamp that ran through Brunswick and Columbus County into South Carolina.
For thousands of years, the area was inhabited by Native Americans who farmed the islands within nearby swamps. Archaeologists have discovered evidence of their civilization at the lake, including artifacts and mounds standing on the east shore.
European settlers reached Columbus County in the early 1700s. By the end of the century, the logging industry arrived – purchasing large swaths of land around the lake. These companies produced turpentine, lumber, and shingles.
Shingles from the area were popular in the 1800s. They were shipped across the lake on barges, loaded onto mule carts, and hauled to the train station. From there, the Atlantic Coast Line carried them all over the country. They even made their way onto the roof of Mount Vernon during a 20th-century renovation.
Eventually, the transportation of lumber products became train-based, and a track was laid along the west shore. The remains of the railway bridge are still visible today.
In 1976 the NC Division of Parks and Recreation purchased a 273-acre plot of land to create the Lake Waccamaw State Park. They bought additional land a decade later, including property formerly owned by the Federal Paper Company and Georgia-Pacific Corporation.
The Lake Today
Today, Lake Waccamaw is recognized as a natural wonder. The 9,000-acre lake is the largest of the state’s “Carolina Bays,” unlike the others; this one is full of life. That’s due to the limestone bluff along the north shore that filters the water, reducing acidity and allowing aquatic life to flourish.
This unique ecosystem hosts fifty-two fish varieties, including several endemic species like the Waccamaw silverside. Surrounding forests are home to black bears and bobcats, while American alligators roam nearby canals and swamps.
Visiting Lake Waccamaw State Park
Lake Waccamaw State Park features a 700-foot boardwalk, seven miles of hiking trails, and a visitor’s center. Displayed in the visitor’s center is a fossilized prehistoric whale skull found in the lake in 2008.
Activities include camping, hiking, boating, fishing, and picnicking. Pets must be on a leash.
Located at 1866 State Park Dr in Lake Waccamaw, the park is open daily with varying hours. They are closed on Christmas Day. Admission is free.