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Concentrated in the coastal plain of the southeastern United States are a series of elliptical or oval depressions. These depressions are called bays, named for the sweet bay, loblolly bay and red bay trees found growing around them. Of the 500,000 bays estimated to exist, most are small and few are greater than 500 feet in length. Singletary Lake, however, is approximately 4,000 feet long.
While in the past nearly all bays contained open water, today most are filled with wet organic soils and are overgrown with swamp vegetation. Only a few relict lakes remain. In addition to Singletary Lake, Baytree Lake, Jones Lake, Salters Lake, Lake Waccamaw and White Lake are included within the North Carolina State Parks system.
The origin of the Carolina bays has long been a matter of speculation and debate. Many hypotheses regarding how bay lakes originated have been proposed, and hypotheses include underground springs, the dissolution of subsurface minerals and meteor showers. So far, no single explanation has gained universal acceptance. One of the most supported theories proposes that, approximately 10,000 to 15,000 years ago when the region was covered by water, strong winds created water currents that carved the shallow depressions. Once the water recessed, these depressions formed the lakes we now call Carolina bays.
Bay lakes are shallow, ranging from eight to nearly 12 feet in depth. Though not the largest of the Bladen County lakes, with a shoreline of almost four miles Singletary Lake is the deepest at 11.8 feet. Like other bay lakes, Singletary is not fed by streams or springs but depends upon rainfall and runoff from the surrounding land. Therefore, the water level fluctuates with local precipitation.
Usually, vegetation is established almost completely around margins of bay lakes. Trees and shrubs along lake perimeters reduce wave and current action, permitting sediments to accumulate and encouraging new plant growth. Peat is produced gradually from dead organic matter along the shoreline, and eventually trees take root. Slowly, the bay forest grows into the lake. This process slowly reduces the size of the lake.
Today Singletary Lake is only 44 percent of its original size. Like other bay lakes, Singletary ultimately may be reduced to a moist bog. Singletary Lake is surrounded by typical bay vegetation. Trees include red bay, loblolly bay, pond pine and Atlantic white cedar, and shrubs include pepperbush, gallberry, leucothoe, huckleberry and sheepskill. Areas of the park with the highest elevations provide habitats for turkey oak, longleaf pine, blueberry and holly.
Listen to the melodies of songbirds in a park that is home to wood duck, pileated woodpecker and red-tailed hawk. The red-cockaded woodpecker, an endangered species, also resides at Singletary Lake. Catch a glimpse of a wild turkey, white-tailed deer or rabbit, or see their tracks in the sandy soil. Fence lizard, carpenter frog, southern toad and box turtle also reside in the park.
Located in the park and designated as a natural area by the Society of American Foresters in the early 1960s, the Turkey Oak Natural Area will remain in its natural state to be used for scientific and educational study. This 133-acre area, named for its predominant tree, consists of both a coarse sand ridge at the southeastern end of the lake and a portion of the bay bog.
All of the primary plant community types around the Carolina bays are represented. The rare white wicky, a relative of mountain laurel, grows in the area, as well as a variety of carnivorous plants. Contact the park office to arrange an exploration for your group or class.