Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge, established in 1934, is located on the south side of the Albemarle-Pamlico Peninsula. The refuge is 50,180 acres of which Lake Mattamuskeet makes up approximately 40,000 acres. It is the largest natural freshwater lake in North Carolina. This shallow lake is surrounded by marsh, forest and man-made impoundments.
This refuge is probably best known as the wintering home for hundreds of thousands of waterfowl including Tundra Swans, Snow Geese, Canada Geese and up to 18 species of ducks. Located on the Atlantic Flyway, the lake’s shallow depth, which is covered by submerged aquatic vegetation, and close proximity of croplands make Lake Mattamuskeet particularly well suited for swans, geese and some ducks. The marshes and other wetlands and the impoundments offer additional sources of food. The wintering waterfowl are at the refuge from mid-November through about mid-February.
The action does not stop then however. The same rich environment that the waterfowl enjoy in the winter is home to many species of birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians year round. Additionally many species of non-waterfowl birds pass through the refuge through migration. More than 240 species of birds have been observed at Mattamuskeet.
Mammals such as deer, bobcat, otter, black bear, and the endangered red wolf are found on the property. Frogs, toads, and salamanders are common throughout the refuge as well as reptiles including snapping turtles, yellow-belly turtles, eastern fence lizards, and 31 species of snakes. The only venomous snakes are the copperhead, cottonmouth, canebrake rattlesnake, and the Carolina pygmy rattlesnake.
There are 30 miles of levees and 15 miles of roads in the refuge that are open to the public for a part or all of the year. There are hiking trails and boardwalks as well. Because of the vastness of the refuge and the intermittent access to some areas, it is best to start your visit at the headquarters building located at the end of Entrance Drive. There you can pickup a detailed map and a list of closures and other regulations in effect at the time of your visit. This is also a great place to find out what wildlife has been reported seen by staff and other visitors.
While at the headquarters, take a few minutes to view the Lodge. This unique building was originally built to house the world’s largest pumping facility at the time. A business group attempted to drain the lake for development and farming. They were successful for a while even to the point of building one of four planned villages. However, the venture eventually failed and the federal government acquired the property. The Civilian Conservation Corps converted the building into a hunting lodge which remained active until the early 70’s. The unique observation tower, which looks like a lighthouse, was originally the smokestack for the four massive boilers that powered the pumps.
Although a little further out of the way than many of the OBX refuges, Mattamuskeet should be a must see location for all nature lovers.
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Mattamuskeet Lodge, a hunting lodge until 1974, was originally the building that housed the pumps used to drain the lake in the early 1900’s. Fortunately the enterprise proved to be economically unfavorable and the lake was allowed to refill. The property was acquired by the U.S. Government in 1934.
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Getting there: The headquarters entrance road is located off Highway 94, one and one-half miles north of U.S. 264 between Swan Quarter and Engelhard. You can reach Highway 94 via U.S. 264 and reach Highway 94 in about one hour and 10 minutes, going about 66 miles. You can also get to the refuges by going west on U.S. 64 to Highway 94. That way is about one hour and 15 minutes and is 70 miles. Of course you can go one way and come back the other.
By taking U.S. 264 you can also stop at nearby Swanquarter NWR, Gull Rock Game Land, and Alligator River NWR. U.S. 64 will take you by Alligator River NWR, Palmeto-Peartree Presrve, and Scupernong River Intrpetive Trail.
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