About the Park

The shoreline at Carolina Beach State Park
The park's southern shoreline on the Cape Fear River. Photo by C. Helms.

Ecology

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Cypress Pond at Carolina Beach State Park
Cypress Pond. Photo by C. Edwards.

Limesink ponds are formed by sinkholes in areas where limestone has dissolved over a very long period of time, causing the surface soil to form a depression. Three limesink ponds, each vegetated by a unique plant community, are found in the sand dunes of the park. Cypress Pond (pictured above), the most unusual of the three, is dominated by a dwarf cypress swamp forest. Lily Pond is occupied by the oval leaves and white flowers of water lilies. Grass Pond, which dries out almost yearly, is filled with a variety of aquatic sedges. Carnivorous plants thrive in the boggy soil around its edge and in the park's acidic, mineral-poor soil.

An American goldfinch perched on a bird feeder at Carolina Beach State Park
An American goldfinch in winter plumage at Carolina Beach. Photo by C. Edwards.
A brown pelican resting on a wooden post at Carolina Beach State Park
A brown pelican at the Carolina Beach marina. Photo by T. Taylor.

Carolina Beach State Park is a great place for birdwatching. Brown pelicans thrive in the coastal environment, and warblers, finches and woodpeckers fill the woods. In the summer, painted buntings, yellowthroats, and prairie warblers can be seen in the forest, while ospreys populate Snow's Cut. In addition to providing habitat for resident land birds during the winter and summer, Carolina Beach State Park is located along an important migration corridor and attracts many birds during their migrations.

An eastern spadefoot frog surrounded by leaf ground litter at Carolina Beach State Park
An eastern spadefoot toad at Carolina Beach. Photo by K. Futch.
An eastern fox squirrel looking down from a tree at Carolina Beach State Park
An eastern fox squirrel at Carolina Beach. Photo by J. Brown.

The small ponds in the park are home to several frog species. Carolina anoles, five-lined skinks, six-lined racerunners, and various snake species are also found. Occasionally, an alligator will wander into the marina. White-tailed deer, raccoons, and gray squirrels are abundant. Opossums, cottontails, and animals common to the southern coastal plain may be seen, along with an occasional fox squirrel, gray fox, or river otter.

A wide shot of the marsh at Carolina Beach State Park
The marsh at Carolina Beach. Photo by C. Peek.

Several coastal ecosystems are present in the park. Forests dominated by longleaf pine, turkey oak, and live oak occupy the dry, coarse soil of a series of relict sand dunes. Between the dunes are dense shrub swamps, called pocosins, populated by pond pines, loblolly and sweet bay, yaupon, and evergreen shrubs. Brackish marshes (pictured above) consisting primarily of cordgrasses and sedges can be found beyond the relict dunes adjacent to the river.

Spoon-leaved sundews at Carolina Beach State Park
Spoonleaf sundew at Carolina Beach. Photo by J. Davidson and K. Futch.

Several interesting carnivorous plants thrive at Carolina Beach State Park by trapping and digesting insects. Among these carnivorous plants are pitcher plants, bladderworts, sundews, and butterworts. The most familiar – and the most spectacular – is the Venus flytrap.

A closeup view of the Venus flytrap at Carolina Beach State Park
A closeup view of the "trap" leaf. Photo by T. Howard.

With the appearance of a clam shell, the trap is actually a modified leaf. Its interior may be colored pale yellow to bright red. When its trigger hairs are touched by an insect, the halves close and the guard hairs interlock, entrapping its prey. The plant then secretes digestive fluids, and within 3 to 5 days, nutrients from the prey are absorbed and the trap reopens. Each trap dies after closing and opening three to five times. Throughout the growing season, new traps emerge from underground stems to replace those that have died.

Three Venus flytraps with the traps closed at Carolina Beach State Park
Venus flytraps that have closed up. Photo by J. Shimel.

Venus flytraps are native only within 60 or 70 miles of Wilmington. New propagation methods have saved the flytrap from becoming an endangered species. However, their numbers are declining due to the destruction of their habitats and poaching. Prescribed burning is beneficial to flytraps, as well as other kids of carnivorous plants, as it discourages competing species.

Venus flytrap plant next to a dime coin for size comparison
A dime next to a flytrap plant, for size comparison. Photo by C. Edwards.

Venus flytraps may be purchased at many retail nurseries. Help preserve this rare plant by not removing flytraps from the park. When hiking at the park, please stay on the trails, as these plants are small and fragile and can be easily damaged by trampling.

Learn more about this unique plant from the N.C. State Extension website

History

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The Cape Fear Indians lived in and around the area that is now Carolina Beach State Park, prior to European settlement. Mainly occupying the land along the Cape Fear River and its tributaries, the small tribe grew hostile to early settlers and, in 1715, participated in an uprising against Europeans in the area. The Cape Fear Indians were defeated and left the area by 1725. Artifacts of native culture, including pottery fragments, arrowheads and mounds of oyster shells, have been found in the area.

Early attempts at colonization in the area were unsuccessful, mainly due to conflicts with the Cape Fear Indians. Pirating, common in the area during colonial times, also contributed to the struggles of early settlers. In 1726, a permanent settlement was established along the lower Cape Fear. The newly settled land became an important area for commerce when the English crown designated the Cape Fear River as one of five official ports of entry. Agricultural and timber products, naval stores, shipping and trade formed the basis of the economy.

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Sugarloaf Dune at Carolina Beach State Park
Sugarloaf Dune. Photo by C. Peek.

Sugarloaf, a 50-foot sand dune near the bank of the Cape Fear River, has been an important navigational marker for river pilots since 1663. The dune was also of strategic significance during the Civil War, when, as part of the Confederacy's defense of the Port of Wilmington, about 5,000 troops camped on or near Sugarloaf during the siege of Fort Fisher.

Driftwood along the shore at Carolina Beach State Park
Driftwood along the shore at Carolina Beach. Photo by C. Peek.

Carolina Beach State Park was established in 1969 to preserve the unique environment along the intracoastal waterway. It was first called Masonboro State Park and was the state's 14th state park. It was the state's first expenditure for parkland since 1916. The name changed to Carolina Beach State Park in 1974.

The 761-acre park is located on a triangle of land known as Pleasure Island, which lies between the Atlantic Ocean and the Cape Fear River. The land became an island when Snow's Cut was dredged in 1929 and 1930, connecting Masonboro Sound to the Cape Fear River. Snow's Cut, a part of the Intracoastal Waterway, provides inland passage for boat traffic along the Atlantic coast.