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Pocosin Lakes
National Wildlife Refuge

205 South Ludington Drive
Columbia, NC   27925
E-mail: pocosinlakes@fws.gov
Phone Number: 252-796-3004
Visit the Refuge's Web Site:
Black bears are numerous on Pocosin Lakes Refuge - you never know when one might pop up.
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Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge

Pocosin Lakes NWR was established in 1990 when the Conservation Fund in conjunction with the Richard King Mellon Foundation donated over 93,000 acres to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. The adjacent 12,000 acre Pungo NWR, established in 1963 to serve as a sanctuary for migratory waterfowl, was combined with these new refuge lands and became the Pungo Unit of Pocosin Lakes NWR. Today the Refuge encompasses more than 113,000 acres.

Prior to its establishment, many acres of refuge wetlands were drained through a network of canals and ditches to expand agricultural areas; an alteration that has made the refuge more vulnerable to wildfires.

Pocosin Lakes NWR was established to provide habitat for migratory waterfowl and other birds, to protect and enhance a unique type of wetlands called pocosin, to protect and enhance habitat for those species which are classified as endangered, threatened, or of special concern, and to provide opportunities for wildlife-oriented interpretation, outdoor recreation and environmental education.

Getting There . . .
The Refuge is located 6 miles south of Columbia, NC off Hwy 94 on the east and 18 miles south of Plymouth, NC off Hwy 45 on the west. There are several access points to the refuge. The Pungo Unit can be accessed by taking Hwy 45 South to Pantego, NC. Other parts of the Refuge can be accessed by taking Hwy 64 to Roper and turning onto Newland Road and then taking Shore Drive. The Walter B. Jones, Sr. Center for the Sounds, refuge visitor center and headquarters complex, is located on Hwy 64 in Columbia, NC next to the Tyrrell County Visitor's Center.

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Wildlife and Habitat

Pocosin wetlands are extremely flat and their natural drainage is poor. The top layer of soil is comprised of mostly organic material, or peat. This organic matter consists of leaves, sticks, and other organic debris that were once submerged in water and decomposed slowly. It takes over 100 years to create one inch of peat. Pocosin Lakes NWR is comprised of over 100,000 acres of pocosin habitat. Other habitat types found on the Refuge include: over 1,000 acres of bottomland hardwood forests, 1,250 acres of agricultural farm fields, 7,000 acres of lakes, ponds, and impoundments, 800 acres of Atlantic white cedar, and 2,800 acre of cypress gum swamp.

Water bodies on the refuge consist of black-water rivers, Pungo Lake, Lake Phelps, and New Lake. Black-water rivers begin in the coastal plain and, unlike brow-water systems that originate in the piedmont or mountains, carry very little inorganic sediment. Pungo Lake is approximately 2,800 acres in size. It may have been formed by a ground fire that later filled up with rainwater. The dark water, which is caused by tannins and particles from peat and natural vegetation, prevents sunlight penetration to the bottom of the lake. Therefore, no submerged aquatic vegetation occurs in Pungo Lake. The lake is used by thousands of wintering waterfowl as a resting and roosting site. Lake Phelps is approximately 16,600 acres in size and is managed by Pettigrew State Park. The Park owns land around the lake, primarily on the north side. The refuge owns approximately four miles of shoreline on the south side. Thousands of waterfowl can be observed on the lakes during fall and winter. New Lake is approximately 4,900 acres, of which 4,200 is owned by the refuge.

Pocosin Lakes supports a large variety of wildlife. Over 200 species of birds, over 40 species of mammals, and over 40 species of reptiles and amphibians use the refuge habitats. The Pungo Unit provides wintering habitat for many species of ducks which arrive after the first full moon in November, as well as large concentrations of tundra swans and snow geese. The spring and fall migration of neotropical migratory songbirds paints the forests with a variety of beautiful songs and colors. The refuge also has the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker and bald eagles. Large populations of black bears and white-tailed deer inhabit the refuge. Other mammals found here include the endangered red wolf, raccoon, gray squirrel, cotton-tail rabbit, marsh rabbit, bobcat, gray fox, red fox, and coyote. For reptiles and amphibians, there are four venomous snakes including timber rattlesnake, cottonmouth, pygmy rattlesnake and copperhead; and numerous species of turtles, such as yellow-bellied slider, painted, spotted, snapping, box, mud, and musk turtles. There are also a variety of frogs and toads on the refuge including southern leopard frog, American toad, cricket frog, green tree frog, eastern narrowmouth, spade foot toad, squirrel tree frog, carpenters frog and bullfrogs. In addition, North Carolina is at the northern tip of the range of the American alligator and they are occasionally seen on the refuge.

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The Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) lands that exist today, at one time were the southern extremity of the Great Dismal Swamp. The term pocosin is an Algonquian Indian word meaning swamp on a hill. Although the land is relatively flat, pocosins are generally slightly higher in elevation. Organic soils in pocosins hold water like a sponge, releasing it very slowly to surrounding areas. Historically, pocosins remained wet for long periods of time due to the poor drainage and slow water movement. People are known to have inhabited parts of the area that is now refuge as much as 11,000 years ago, when they came to Lake Phelps to take advantage of the available food sources. In the late 1700s a canal was dug to connect Lake Phelps to the Scuppernong River allowing lands north of the lake to be drained for cultivation. By the mid 1800s, canals were cut by the State that lowered Pungo and New Lakes by five feet, allowing greater expansion of agricultural lands. As time progressed into the mid 1900s, a large part of the pososin wetlands were being drained for farming, access for timber harvesting, and peat mining trial and errors. This made the land more susceptible to disastrous wild fires during periods of hot, dry weather. The most recent catastrophic wildfire occurred in 1985 when 95,000 acres burned and surface elevations were reduced up to three feet in some places due to the combustion of the peat during ground fire.

In 1963, under authority of the Fish and Wildlife Act of 1956, the 12,000 acre Pungo Unit was established as Pungo NWR to serve as a sanctuary for migratory waterfowl. In 1989, The Conservation Fund, in conjunction with the Richard King Mellon Foundation, purchased more than 104,000 acres of wetlands adjacent to Pungo NWR in Tyrrell, Washington, and Hyde Counties. A year later, Pocosin Lakes NWR was established through a 93,000-acre donation from The Conservation Fund to the United States of America through the Fish and Wildlife Service. Afterwards, Pungo NWR was incorporated into Pocosin Lakes NWR and was named the Pungo Unit.

Splash page, one sentence: The large, inaccessible tracts of Pocosin Lakes NWR provide habitat for the only wild population of endangered red wolves in the world and one of the largest populations of black bears east of the Mississippi River.

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Pocosin Lakes NWR now featured on video DVD


Photograph of grizzly bear on DVD cover. Experience eight National Wildlife Refuges from Alaska to the Caribbean on this new two hour DVD.

See wildlife up close and personal – from grizzly bear and whooping cranes to red wolves and bald eagles. For more information, click on the photograph of the DVD cover.

Recreation and Education Opportunities
Wildlife Observation
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Management Activities
Current management strategies focus on providing feeding, roosting, and loafing habitat for wintering waterfowl; imitating more natural water levels in pocosin habitat without impacting adjacent land owners; protection from catastrophic wildfires; re-establishing pocosin vegetation, including the reforestation of the imperiled Atlantic white cedar; and management for endangered species, such as the red-cockaded woodpecker and the red wolf. Refuge lands are vitally important to the success of the Service's reintroduction and recovery efforts for the red wolf. Visitor services include a visitor center that provides environmental education and interpretation opportunities, hunting and fishing programs, wildlife observation and photography facilities.

Programs include:

  • Managing moist soil impoundments for waterfowl
  • Surveying wildlife populations
  • Cooperative farming
  • Hydrology management
  • Reforestation of wetland vegetation
  • Prescribed burning
  • Wildfire detection and suppression
  • Providing visitor services