Lake Drummond and the Great Dismal Swamp

November 25, 2006

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Provided and copyright by: Rob Bruner, NOAA
Summary authors & editors: Rob Bruner

The photo above shows Lake Drummond and the surrounding Great Dismal Swamp of southeastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina. Lake Drummond, at approximately 3,100 acres in size, is one of only two natural freshwater lakes in the state of Virginia and is the subject of many different theories as to its origin. These include a large meteor strike, a shift in the continental shelf during the last ice age, and an underground peat fire. The entire lake bottom consists of peat and local Native American legend has the lake being created by a giant fire bird.

The peat gives the lake water a very low pH level and very high tannin content. This proved especially important in the early days of the American colonies when oceangoing merchant ships would fill their water barrels with water from the lake. The high tannin content would allow the water to remain fresher during the long crossings of the Atlantic. Since the time of the American colonies, the Great Dismal Swamp has repeatedly been logged so that now it is roughly only half its original size. Even our first president, George Washington, participated in an ill-advised venture to try to drain the swamp and harvest its lumber. In 1974, Lake Drummond and the Great Dismal Swamp were put under the protection of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a wildlife refuge. The Lake and Swamp are now only available to hikers, campers, anglers, canoeists and hunters. Photo taken on September 22, 2006. [Revised May 2017]

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