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Concentrated in the coastal plain of the southeastern United States is a series of elliptical or oval depressions. These depressions are called bays, so named for the sweet bay, loblolly bay and red bay trees found growing around them.
There are about 500,000 bays in the southeast. Most are small; few are more than 500 feet in length. The Jones Lake bay, however, is approximately 8,000 feet long. The lake comprises 224 acres and nearby Salters Lake is 315 acres.
In the past, nearly all bays contained open water. Today, most bays are filled with wet organic soils and overgrown with swamp-type vegetation. Only a few relict lakes remain. In addition to Jones and Salters lakes, Baytree Lake, Singletary Lake, Lake Waccamaw and White Lake are included in the state parks system.
Scientists have long wondered about the origin of the Carolina bays. Many hypotheses have been proposed, including underground springs, wind and wave action, dissolution of subsurface minerals and meteor showers. So far, no single explanation has gained universal acceptance.
Bay lakes are shallow, ranging from 8 to 12 feet in depth. One of the shallowest of the Bladen County lakes, Jones Lake has a depth of 8.7 feet and a shoreline of 2.2 miles. Like most lakes in the area, it is not fed by streams or springs but depends upon precipitation. Therefore, water levels fluctuate. Water in most bay lakes is highly acidic, containing few plant nutrients. The water is often dark in color due to the decomposing plant matter, called peat, at the lake bottom.
Statewide interest in the bay lakes emerged in 1827, and legislation prohibiting private ownership of land covered by lake waters was passed in 1911, stating that any lake in Bladen, Columbus and Cumberland counties of 500 acres or more was property of the state for the use and benefit of all people. Additional legislation in 1929 designated lakes of 50 acres or more as state property.
Jones Lake State Park is a diverse plant community with typical bay vegetation. Evergreens, including sweet bay, loblolly bay and red bay, are predominant. Because the bog around the lake, also called a pocosin, has poor drainage and is subject to flooding and drought, the area has few herbaceous plants. Sheep laurel, blueberry and fetterbush thrive in the acidic soil. Pond pocosin, pine and Atlantic white cedar are common in the bay forest. These trees usually do not reproduce in such shaded areas, but natural fires have burned the underbrush, allowing their growth. Today, prescribed burning is essential for the perpetuation of these communities. Without fire, the character of these vegetative communities would eventually change.
The warm climate at Jones Lake attracts a variety of reptiles. On a sunny day, see Carolina anoles and fence lizards basking in the solar warmth. To the delight of campers, frogs and toads often fill the night with music; spring peeper, southern leopard frog, bullfrog and cricket frog are abundant. Brimley's chorus frog and the endangered pine barrens tree frog also reside at Jones Lake.
Bird watchers applaud the many species found in the park. Carolina wrens and chickadees, as well as black vultures, are common. In the bog, spot a yellow-throated warbler or white-eyed vireo. Pileated woodpecker, red-tailed hawk and red cockaded woodpecker, an endangered species, also make their homes in the park. While enjoying the melodies of songbirds, catch a glimpse of a wild turkey, white-tailed deer, fox or cottontail rabbit.