Jones Lake State Park & Singletary Lake State Park – 3/22/19 – 4 miles
As the crow flies, it’s 500 miles from the western end of North Carolina to its eastern Outer banks. The state’s signature trail, the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, takes a meandering scenic route for about 1,175 miles. The Friends group that supports the MST holds an Annual Gathering, historically located in the central or western parts of the state. In 2019 the Gathering went east to spotlight all great things being accomplished at the coast. I attended to support the FMST, to hear what’s new (there’s always something new) and for the opportunity to pass through a couple of counties and see some NC state parks I haven’t visited. Surf City, here I come!
I left home in the early morning for the 3-hour drive to Bladen County – a county that’s had some unflattering notoriety in recent national political news. But what else is in Bladen County? Jones Lake and Singletary Lake State Parks.
Before continuing, help yourself by reading about Carolina bay lakes. I did not know one thing about this geographical phenomenon prior to this trip. Bay lakes can be found in coastal states from New Jersey to Florida. Fashioned by melting glaciers, the bay lakes have existed for millenia, but their uniform elliptical shapes were just revealed in the 1930’s with the arrival of aerial photography. Their shapes are oriented northwest to southeast, are not fed by streams or springs (just rainfall and runoff) and are only about 10 feet deep. [How do you suppose they are being affected by climate change?]
First stop: Jones Lake State Park in Elizabethtown, NC, has an amazing visitor center with an extensive exhibit room featuring Carolina bays. [Fact: most bay lakes are less than 500 feet long; Jones Lake is 8,000 feet long.]
In the visitor center exhibit
The park’s amenities include hiking trails, RV camping and group camping, bath houses, playing fields, a boat ramp, a fishing pier, a nice big picnic area between the VC and the lakeshore, and a roped-off area for swimming. How great that water must feel on a steamy summer day!
More information at the park’s website here.
Today, however, there was a blustery wind to temper the full sun and I needed my fleece jacket for a little walk. The amenities are oriented on the southeastern side of Jones Lake, but the park acreage also contains Salters Lake. Hiking trails include the Bay Trail going all the way around Jones Lake (4 miles), Salters Lake Trail connecting Jones Lake and Salters Lake (accessed halfway around the Bay Trail) and the Cedar Loop Trail (starts at the right side of the VC, connects to the Bay Trail). [Fun fact: Salters Lake is named for Sallie Salter, a woman who spied on Tories encamped in Elizabethtown during the Revolutionary War.]
Park trail map
My time was limited so I opted for the Cedar Loop Trail, going counterclockwise. Flat (of course), sandy, and at times softened with pine needles, the trail starts out in view of the lake before turning right and away. For some distance it is out of sight of the shoreline altogether and felt very closed in (intimate?)
Be patient… there’s a little bench and an inspiring view. I ate my lunch and contemplated peace as the tannic-stained water lapped at the shore.
The loop trail bends back toward the visitor center and again leaves sight of the water – but look at the charming Carolina jessamine blooms scattered along the trail. The vines climbed up into the trees.
As I walked out on the boat pier, the wind was asserting itself, making the water choppy and intimidating, a bottomless deep blue. Ain’t nobody canoeing today.
Second stop: Singletary Lake State Park in Kelly, NC, less than 20 minutes down the road from
Jones Lake State Park
Singletary Lake has a similar natural history but a different human history. After hundreds of years of individual subsistence farming, the state determined that all bay lakes should be owned by the state rather than private parties. In 1936, Singletary Lake was developed by the federal National Park Service as a CCC project to demonstrate recreation, education and conservation of natural resources. Basically it created two group camps totaling 10 cabins, an infirmary, a dining and recreation hall, a workshop, canoes and a swim area and pier. They are available for reservation by nonprofit organizations. [Fun fact: the group camps are named Camp Loblolly Bay and Camp Ipecac.]
More information on the park website here.
Singletary Lake SP doesn’t have a visitor center and the tiny park office appeared closed. A maintenance man saw me in the parking area and gave me a brochure with very useful information and a park map. I strolled around for a little self-orientation, admiring the massive and majestic longleaf pines.
Larger than Jones Lake but with a similar 4-mile circumference, Singletary is the deepest Carolina bay lake at a whopping 12 feet. There’s only one hiking trail, the one-mile CCC Loop Trail, so no decision-making on what I should do. Like the Cedar Loop Trail at Jones Lake, it’s an easy walk.
Wind still gusting, water still churning. And how would you describe that blue hue?
Royal, cerulean, Prussian, ultramarine, cobalt…
North Carolina’s natural beauty is not limited to its extreme west and east. The Carolina bay phenomenon is a vital part of the state’s ecosystem and I’m glad I discovered it! Thank you to the state park system for preserving, protecting and inviting us to learn and appreciate these natural wonders.
"A lake is a landscape's most beautiful and expressive feature. It is earth's eye, looking into which the beholder measures the depth of his own nature." ~Henry David Thoreau
“This couldn’t be just a lake. No real water was ever blue like that.” Dorothy Maywood Bird