The first thing you need to know about Singletary Lake is that it is not lonely at all. White, Bay Tree, Jones, and Salters lakes, as well as Big Colly, Tatum Millpond, and Bloody Branch bays all lie within a 45-minute drive of one another. The cluster of lakes sit like a shimmering blue splatter across the coastal plain, forming nearly perfect blue ovals that add to the mystery of the formation of these natural lakes. Carolina Bays and their smaller friends clearly share some history.
Carolina Bays are named for the sweet bay, loblolly bay and red bay trees found growing around their banks. Of the 500,000 bays estimated to exist, most are small and few are greater than 500 feet in diameter. Singletary Lake, however, is nearly 4,000 feet in diameter.
Singletary Lake has a shoreline of almost four miles and, at 11.8 feet deep, is the deepest of the Bladen County bay lakes. Like other bay lakes, Singletary is not fed by streams or springs, so its water supply depends upon rainfall and runoff from the surrounding land.
Bay lakes disappear over time when left to their own devices. Trees and shrubs along lake perimeters, like Singletary Lake’s beautiful red bay, loblolly bay, pond pine and Atlantic white cedar trees, reduce wave and current action, causing sediments to build up and allowing for 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 park is special, because you have to have an appointment. That would be pretty inconvenient at most parks, but most people don’t just “happen upon” Singletary Lake State Park. You have to plan to visit, and you have to know where you’re going. This park is often reserved for camping, environmental education, and retreat groups, so you must schedule your visit with the park office.
Singletary Lake State Park was the first of my cool-season hikes, and as soon as I stepped out into the autumn air I knew this was a great time to visit. I hiked through the park on an overcast day with a breeze, cool enough for long sleeves and no bitey bugs. The leaves, brightly colored and reflecting off of the water, were ready to fall. I was lucky enough to catch these beautiful colors– I expected I’d be too late.
Not many of us plan to hike in our coastal parks in the off-season. The summer makes us flock to the water, and the rest of the year we usually leave our coastal communities to recover from the summer swell without us. But here’s a little secret: our coastal parks are peaceful and incredibly beautiful this time of year. Biting insects and snakes are hiding, trees are at their most brilliant, the trail is padded with freshly fallen leaves, and a cool breeze blows to refresh you.
Just one trail winds through the park and adjacent to the lake– the CCC Loop Trail. I hiked a bunch of park trails with major elevation changes this year, so I noted the markedly different experience of flat trails at Singletary Lake State Park. This is the kind of easy hike that allows you to really “zone out.” Your mind can wander, you can meditate, disassociate, deescalate, reinvigorate–whatever it is that you do.
The trees, shrubs, ferns, and moss lining the sandy trails are in a class all their their own; there is just no parallel to this experience. When you come back to reality, you’ll still be on the trail, somewhere in the park.
Other than the park’s autumn beauty and easy trail, one of the best things about this hike was the crisp air. It invigorates you, it opens your eyes, and it connects you to the land. The only sound is a woodpecker and the crunch of leaves underfoot. A deep breath burns your nostrils with cold, splashes deep into your lungs.. and you feel as if you could walk for days.
Make sure you make it out to Singletary Lake State Park before all the leaves drop- you’ll be glad you did.
See you in our parks!
Katie Hall is the new-ish Public Information Officer for North Carolina Division of Parks and Recreation. A life-long North Carolinian, Katie is on a mission to explore all the State Parks she has missed or hasn’t seen in a decade or more. Her background is in environmental science, management and policy, communications and outreach.