If you have consulted the three witches of “Macbeth” fame and are on the prowl for a fenny snake, eye of newt, toe of frog, adder’s fork, blind worm’s sting, lizard’s leg, and owlet’s wing, you might want to take a trip to the Great Dismal Swamp. Among its countless species of plants and animals, you are sure to find that rare delicacy that will make your broth boil and bubble.
Explorer William Drummond II is credited with proclaiming the swamp covering thousands of acres in North Carolina and Virginia as “dismal.” Although Native Americans inhabited the area in 1650, early European settlers had little interest in the vast area. Governor William Drummond was the first to discover the 3,100-acre lake in the heart of the swamp that now bears his name.
As the years passed, the swamp served as an investment for entrepreneurs, a logging bonanza, a refuge for slaves, a hideout for escapees, a paradise for hunters, an enticing subject for writers and artists, and a home for thousands of plant and animal species. Human exploration finally gave way to preservation when in 2007 North Carolina officially designated it as the Dismal Swamp State Park.
One of the most memorable field trips that I ever took with a group of students was a trek through the swamp to Lake Drummond. Even with 40 active middle-schoolers during early spring, there was a tranquility that remains indescribable for me. Sitting on the dock and enjoying our lunches, the kids and I could sense the peace that prevailed in that natural setting. Sounds of birds and children’s laughter echoed from across the lake and magnified the eeriness of that spot.
So much has been written about the swamp, which has fascinated everyone from George Washington, to Harriet Beecher Stowe, to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, to Robert Frost and to our own Bland Simpson, author and native of Elizabeth City.
Scientists have compiled observations and facts about its geological history and constantly studied the species which inhabit the area. One of the rarest ferns, the log fern, grows up to 48 inches high in the woods of the swamp. The Plunkenet flatsedge also flowers from July through October while the purplish-pink flowers mark the sandywoods chaffhead.
The longleaf pine, also known as the southern yellow pine, takes 100-150 years to reach its full size and sometimes lives to be 300 years old. Other plants for which there is concern are the Virginia least trillium, the silky camellia, sheep laurel, and purple bladderwort.
Among the threatened animals which live in the swamp are the bald eagle, red wolf, star nosed mole, and the southeastern shrew. Three species of poisonous snakes, cottonmouth, canebrake rattlesnake and copperhead also inhabit the swamp.
Teaming with life and breathtaking beauty, the Great Dismal Swamp is anything but dismal, and it is preserved just for you. Visit there and find a special peace.