Lake Mattamuskeet is in Hyde County, eastern North Carolina, and with its 40,000 acres is the largest natural lake in the state. More than 800 species of wildlife (over 240 bird species) are found on the refuge during part or all of each year. Hundreds of migratory shorebirds find resting and feeding spots along the edge of the lake and through 2,600 acres of marsh impoundments. Although known primarily for its large flocks of visiting waterfowl during the months from November to March, Mattamuskeet also is a home for threatened and endangered species such as the peregrine falcon and bald eagle.
Marshlands, forests and croplands circle the lake and provide habitat for a host of wildlife, including Canada and snow geese, tundra swans and 22 species of ducks that overwinter on the refuge every year. Half of the Tundra Swans in the United States spend the winter on this lake. The lakebed is shallow, ranging from about 6 inches to no more than 5 feet deep. The average depth of the lake is about 18 inches.
Between 1915 and 1932 three companies tried to drain the lake in an effort to transform into farms and residential lots. In each case, after a few years of partial success the company went banckrupt. The legacy of that period is that the lake's size decreased from the initial 100,000 acres to the present day 40,000 acres.
In 1934, the United States government bought the lake and turned it into Lake Mattamuskeet Migratory Bird Refuge. Three years later, Mattamuskeet Lodge opened to the public, quickly earning a reputation as the "Canada Goose Hunting Capital of the World." It lost that title rather quickly though, as poor land-use practices and climate changes combined to drastically reduced the region's goose population.
In 1972, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service launched a major initiative to help restore the geese. As part of this effort, the Service stopped permitting goose hunting on Lake Mattamuskeet, which forced the lodge to close its doors in 1974.
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