Lake Mattamuskeet: From Formation, to World's Largest Pumping Plant

Lake Mattamuskeet is North Carolina’s largest natural lake at 40,000 acres. 

Not surprisingly, the lake is a big draw for hunters, fishermen, bird watchers and others looking for wildlife and outdoor-dependent recreation. The lake is surrounded by an additional estimated 10,000 acres of marsh, timber and cropland which together make up the Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge. 

Ironically, as important as the lake is to the economy of the area, nobody knows how it formed. Some theories suggest a meteor strike created the lake. Others suggest a fire burning deep into the peat soil carved it out. There’s another theory that says it was carved by glaciers. 

However the lake formed, what happened later in the lake's history is without question. 

Inspired by projects in the Netherlands which turned drained lakes into farmland, developers and farmers decided to try the same thing with Lake Mattamuskeet. The world’s largest pumping plant was built in 1914 and large-scale drainage operations were started. 

It worked, for brief periods of time. But eventually the project was deemed too expensive and impractical and it was abandoned. 

In 1934, the United States Government acquired the land and the refuge was established. The Civilian Conservation Corps turned the former pump house into a hunting lodge. It remained in use until 1974. The building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. 

A group of private citizens is now raising money to restore the building.

—Frank Graff

Frank Graff is a producer/reporter with UNC-TV, focusing on North Carolina Science Now, a weekly science series that airs Wednesdays, beginning in August 2013, as part of North Carolina Now on UNC-TV. In addition to producing these special segments, Frank will provide additional information related to his stories through this North Carolina Science Now Reporter's Blog! 

Related Resources:

  • Video: The What's in the Water Show

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