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Dismal Swamp


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Dismal Swamp, VA

About Dismal SwampIn southeastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina, the Great Dismal Swamp is characterized by forested peat soils and a dense undergrowth of briars and vines. The 126,000-acre area is threaded by canals and ditches, many of which have grown over to resemble green tunnels.

Col. William Byrd of Virginia surveyed the swamp in 1728 and named it Great Dismal. George Washington explored it in 1763, saw its possibilities as a timber producer and commercial canal and formed a company known as The Adventurers for Draining the Great Dismal Swamp. Much of the refuge was once owned by Washington, Patrick Henry and other prominent Virginians. The original swamp area is believed to have covered more than 1 million acres.

Remnants of an Atlantic white cedar forest still can be found. Commercially valuable trees include cypress, juniper, red maple and yellow poplar; however, the peat soils make lumbering difficult. The Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1973.

Lake Drummond, a circular lake covering 3,000 acres, is in the heart of the swamp. Its average depth is 6 feet, and the unusually pure water is preserved by the tannic acids from the bark of the cypress, juniper and gum trees. Gnarled cypress trees, moss and the dense growth surrounding the lake give it an eerie, mirrorlike appearance. The coffee-colored lake has a sandy bottom and is unusual in that it is not formed in a basin, but rather on a gently sloping hillside.

Boat access is available via a launch on US 17 at the mouth of the feeder ditch, a 3-mile-long shallow waterway connecting the lake with the Dismal Swamp Canal. To enter the lake, boats must be transported across the Corps of Engineers spillway at the head of the feeder ditch via a small motorized tram (1,000-pound weight limit).

The 22-mile canal, part of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, is the oldest continually operating man-made canal in the country. Locks open four times daily to accommodate yachts and private boats. A wildlife canoe trail provides access for small, portable watercraft. The Dismal Swamp Canal Welcome Center is 3 miles south of the state line at 2356 US 17 in South Mills, N.C. A 4.5-mile paved trail along the canal is open to walkers, bicyclists and bird-watchers. The welcome center is open Mon.-Sat. 9-5. Hours may vary; phone ahead. Phone (252) 771-8333 or (877) 771-8333. Adjacent to the welcome center is Dismal Swamp State Park, which features more than 20 miles of trails, a boardwalk and educational exhibits about the swamp; phone (252) 771-6593 or (252) 771-6582.

Things to Do Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge

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Dismal Swamp, VA

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