While Lake Waccamaw does have a dam, it existed as a lake long before the spillway was built in 1926 to prevent it from drawing completely down during periods of extreme drought.
The lake is estimated to be a quarter of a million years old, and it is North Carolina’s third-largest natural lake at close to 9,000 acres. Lake Waccamaw is considered a Carolina bay due to its oval shape, shallow nature and the presence of bay trees.
While some Carolina bays are much smaller and resemble swampy puddles or bogs, Lake Waccamaw is the largest of the group but similar to other Carolina bays in that it stays very shallow throughout. Despite the lake’s width, its greatest depth is only 11 or 12 feet.
What sets Lake Waccamaw apart from the other Bladen lakes — as the Carolina bays in the region are known — is the amount and diversity of aquatic life it supports. While nearby lakes have more acidic water, Lake Waccamaw has limestone bluffs along its northern shore that help to neutralize the lake’s pH levels.
But the question remains: how did Lake Waccamaw come to be? There are three main theories, ranging from the plausible to the supernatural. Many believe the lake was created by a meteorite, the largest chunk of which created Lake Waccamaw while other pieces made the other Bladen lakes. The oval shape and orientation are similar throughout the group. While highly possible, there is no evidence of any pieces of this meteorite being found in or around Lake Waccamaw.
Another explanation is that the indentation that formed Lake Waccamaw came to be from a massive peat fire during a severe drought. The void created by the fire was filled when the four creeks that feed the lake began to flow again. Prehistoric, charred tree stumps have been pulled from the lake, which may lend credence to this theory.
Finally, the Native American Waccamaw tribe that used to inhabit the area described the creation of the lake in an entirely different way. Their lore held that the lake was once a massive mound of flowers. The princess who watched over the flowers refused to marry a brave from another tribe, leading to a war between the tribes. She chose to die on the spot rather than give up her flowers, and the mound sunk into the ground where the divot was flooded by three creeks.
Since none of these theories are likely to be proven or definitively refuted anytime soon, one can believe as they see fit. In the meantime, Lake Waccamaw can be fished and enjoyed by all. It is truly one of eastern North Carolina’s natural treasures. The rural nature of the area surrounding it should ensure that it remains that way, for many generations to come.