The Great Dismal Swamp NWR, VA  

TOPIC: The Great Dismal Swamp NWR

== 1 of 2 ==
Date: Mon, Jan 28 2008 7:17 pm
From: "Edward Frank"

The Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, VA, NC


I visited the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in Southeastern Virginia July 7, 2005. It was part of a longer trip and I was in the vicinity and wanted to check it out.. It was hard to find and not well marked and I drove around a number of back roads before I found the entrance to the Wildlife Refuge itself It is an interesting place and I hope to go back. It was the first place I ever encountered tree sized holly, and it was really the first time I noticed bald cypress. I had seen bald cypress before, but never had really thought much about them. It was before I became involved in trees and trees were not really very high on my radar. It was a hot humid afternoon and the flies were biting as I walked around the raised boardwalk at Dismal Town. What earlier in the season would have been flooded ground was by this date relatively dry and populated by a variety of vegetation. The bees were out. I got stung by a bumblebee. I thought to myself that I need to come back here sometime in the spring when the water is higher and it has more of a swamp-like appearance. On that day it was just a mass of vegetation. None of the trees were particularly large in the area I visited. It had been logged and channelized in several attempts to drain the swamp, or to push a canal through the area. I spent a couple hours here before leaving, I wanted to spend more time, but I needed to make Cape Hatteris that evening and I had spent to much time looking for the place. The spring would be the time to visit. The descriptions below from the NWR homepage report The dwarf trillium is located in the northwestern section of the swamp and blooms briefly each year for a two-week period in March.

Photo 1: Entrance, sign;                                                Photo 2: Mass of vegetation on the forest floor


Photo 3: Bald Cypress;                           Photo 4: Holly tree

The material below is copied from the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge website: 

The Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge is located in southeastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina. The refuge consists of over 111,000 acres of forested wetlands. Lake Drummond, at 3,100 acres and the largest natural lake in Virginia, is located in the heart of the swamp.

The Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge trails are open everyday for hiking and biking from sunrise to sunset unless otherwise posted. The refuge headquarters is located at 3100 Desert Road in Suffolk, Virginia, and is open Monday through Friday, 7:30 am - 4:00 pm. The headquarters is closed on weekends and federal holidays, the hiking and biking trails remain open.

The primary purpose of the refuge's resource management programs is to restore and maintain the natural biological diversity that existed prior to the human-caused alterations. Essential to the swamp ecosystem are its water resources, native vegetative communities, and varied wildlife species . Water is being conserved and managed by placing water control structures in the ditches. Plant community diversity is being restored and maintained through forest management activities which stimulate the ecological effects of wildfires. Wildlife is managed by insuring the presence of required habitats, with hunting used to balance some wildlife populations with available food supplies.

Five major forest types and three non-forested types of plant communities comprise the swamp vegetation. The forested types include pine, Atlantic white-cedar, maple-blackgum, tupelo-baldcypress, and sweetgum-oak poplar. The non-forested types include a remnant marsh, a sphagnum bog, and an evergreen shrub community. Currently red maple is the most abundant and widely distributed plant community, as it expands into other communities due to the lingering effects of past forest cutting, extensive draining, and the exclusion of forest fires. Tupelo-baldcypress and Atlantic white-cedar, formerly predominant forest types in the swamp, today account for less than 20 percent of the total cover. Three species of plants deserving special mention are the dwarf trillium, silky camellia, and log fern. The dwarf trillium is located in the northwestern section of the swamp and blooms briefly each year for a two-week period in March. Silky camellia is found on the hardwood ridges and in the northwestern corner of the refuge. The log fern, one of the rarest American ferns, is more common in the Great Dismal Swamp than anywhere else.

A variety of unpaved roads provides opportunities for hiking and biking. Recommended is the Washington Ditch Trail, a 4 1/2 mile route to Lake Drummond and the elevated wooden Dismal Town Boardwalk Trail, located adjacent to the Washington Ditch parking area. The boardwalk meanders for a mile through a representative portion of swamp habitats.

Human occupation of the Great Dismal Swamp began nearly 13,000 years ago. By 1650, few native Americans remained in the area, and European settlers showed little interest in the swamp. In 1665, William Drummond, a governor of North Carolina, discovered the lake which now bears his name. William Byrd II led a surveying party into the swamp to draw a dividing line between Virginia and North Carolina in 1728. George Washington first visited the swamp in 1763 and organized the Dismal Swamp Land Company that was involved in draining and logging portions of the swamp. A five-mile ditch on the west side of the refuge still bears his name. Logging of the swamp proved to be a successful commercial activity, with regular logging operations continuing as late as 1976. The entire swamp has been logged at least once, and many areas have been burned by periodic wildfires.

The Great Dismal Swamp has been drastically altered by humans over the past two centuries. Agricultural, commercial, and residential development destroyed much of the swamp, so that the remaining portion within and around the refuge represents less than half of the original size of the swamp. Before the refuge was established, over 140 miles of roads were constructed to provide access to the timber. These roads severely disrupted the swamp's natural hydrology, as the ditches which were dug to provide soil for the road beds drained water from the swamp. The roads also blocked the flow of water across the swamp's surface, flooding some areas of the swamp with stagnant water. The logging operations removed natural stands of cypress and Atlantic white-cedar that were replaced by other forest types, particularly red maple. A drier swamp and the suppression of wildfires, which once cleared the land for seed germination, created environmental conditions that were less favorable to the survival of cypress and cedar stands. As a result, plant and animal diversity decreased.

The swamp is also an integral part of the cultural history of the region and remains a place of refuge for wildlife and people. The dense forests of the Great Dismal Swamp provided refuge to runaway slaves, resulting in the refuge becoming the first National Wildlife Refuge to be officially designated as a link in the "Underground Railroad Network to Freedom" in 2003.

Establishment of the refuge began in 1973 when the Union Camp Corporation donated 49,100 acres of land to The Nature Conservancy. This land was then conveyed to the Department of the Interior, and the refuge was officially established through The Dismal Swamp Act of 1974.



Loblolly Pine

Pond Pine

Bald Cypress

Atlantic white cedar

Red Cedar

Black Willow

Swamp Cottonwood

Hop Hornbeam


American Beech

White Oak

Overcup Oak

Swamp Chestnut Oak

Southern Red Oak

Cherrybark Oak

Water Oak

Willow Oak

Laurel Oak

Post Oak

Black Oak

Yellow Poplar

Southern Magnolia





Sweet gum

American sycamore

Washington Thorn


American Holly

Box Elder

Red Maple

Silky Camellia

Black Gum

Tupelo Gum




Horse Sugar

Green Ash

Pumpkin Ash

Black Cherry



Pinus taeda

Pinus serotina

Taxodium distichum

Chamaecyparis thyoides

Juniperus virginiana

Salix nigra


Ostrya virginiana

Carpinus caroliniana

Fagus grandifolia

Quercus alba

Quercus lyrata

Quercus michauxii

Quercus falcata

Quercus pagoda

Quercus nigra

Quercus phellos

Quercus laurifolia

Quercus stellata

Quercus velutina

Liriodendron tulipifera

Magnolia grandifolia

Magnolia virginiana

Asimina triloba

Persea borbonia

Sassafras albidum

Liquidambar styraciflua

Platanus occidentalis

Crataegus phaenopyrum

Amelanchier canadensis

Ilex opaca

Acer negundo

Acer rubrum

Stewartia malacodendron

Nyssa sylvatica

Nyssa aquatica

Cornus florida

Oxydendrum arboreum

Diospyros virginiana

Symplocos tinctoria

Fraxinus pennsylvanica var. subintegerrima

Fraxinus tomentosa

Prunus serotina







Wax Myrtle

Tag Alder

Virginia Willow

Swamp Rose

Red Chokeberry

Wild Azalea

Swamp Azalea

Sheep Laurel




Fetter Bush

Poison Sumac

Winged Sumac



Sweet Gallberry

Strawberry Bush

Devil's Walking Stick

Sweet Pepperbush

Highbush Blueberry

French Mulberry

Possumhaw Virburnum




Silky Camellia


Myrica cerifera

Alnus serrulata

Itea virginica

Rosa palustris

Pyrus arbutifolia

Rhododendron nudiflorum

Rhododendron viscosum

Kalmia augustifolia

Lyonial ligustrina

Lyonia lucida

Leucothoe axillaris

Leucothoe racemosa

Rhus vernix

Rhus copallina

Ilex verticillata

Ilex glabra

Ilex coriacea

Euonymus americanus

Aralia spinosa

Clethra alnifolia

Vaccinium corymbosum

Callicarpa americans

Viburnum nudum

Sambucus canadensis

Cyrilla racemiflora

Baccharis halimifolia
Stewartia malacodendron


Edward Frank

== 2 of 2 ==
Date: Mon, Jan 28 2008 7:55 pm
From: Larry

Ed, Looks like a cool place! Isn't it amazing that they cut
everything in these places. I'm sure there are some old cypress in
there somewhere. Looks like a boat trip. 


TOPIC: The Great Dismal Swamp NWR

== 1 of 1 ==
Date: Mon, Jan 28 2008 9:24 pm
From: James Parton


It looks like a nice place to visit. A swamp would be a change for a
mountain dweller like me.