In the early 20th century, farmers and developers attempted to drain Lake Mattamuskeet, building what was at the time the world’s largest pumping plant. The lake was drained several times to convert the lake bottom to farmland. Eventually, the effort was abandoned as impractical and too expensive.
Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge, located on the Albemarle-Pamlico Peninsula in Hyde County, North Carolina, was established in 1934. The refuge consists of 50,180 acres of open water, marsh, timber, and croplands. The refuge’s main feature is the shallow 40,000 acre Lake Mattamuskeet, the largest natural lake in North Carolina.
Lake Mattamuskeet, dotted with bald cypress trees, is 14 miles long and 5 miles wide and varies in depth from 0.5 to 4 feet, with an average depth of 1.5 feet. Dense beds of submerged aquatic vegetation desired by swan, diving ducks, and some puddle ducks are produced naturally. The lake level fluctuates with rainfall, wind tides, and evapo-transpiration.
A system of 15 man-made wetland impoundments, totaling nearly 2,505 acres, surround the south and east sides of the lake, providing feeding and resting areas for many species of migratory birds as well as resident wildlife. A farming area contributes another 125 acres of cropland and 275 acres of grassland to the diversity of habitat types on the refuge. Refuge forests consist of approximately 1,000 acres of loblolly pine, including the 153-acre Salyer’s Ridge Natural Area, and 2,000 acres of mixed hardwoods and bald cypress. These woodlands occur in narrow strips along the refuge boundary between the marsh and higher private lands.
The refuge’s strategic location along the Atlantic Flyway makes it a vitally important stopover for wintering waterfowl. Over the past 35 years, up to 80 percent of the northern pintail and up to 30 percent of green-winged teal that annually migrate along the Flyway utilize Mattamuskeet NWR. In total, the refuge attracts more than 200,000 ducks, geese and swans from November through February. About 58,000 visitors use the refuge annually to hunt, fish, and observe and photograph wildlife.
Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge will function as a vital part of National Wildlife Refuge System to remain a premier wintering area for ducks, geese, and swans on the Atlantic Flyway. The refuge will maintain breeding habitat for a variety of migratory birds, will maintain an extensive network of moist soil units, and will protect and enhance healthy wetland and aquatic ecosystems, while considering and striving to mitigate the effects of and rising sea levels. It will also protect Service trust species, including threatened and endangered species.
The refuge will continue to provide quality recreation opportunities for hunting and fishing, and will increase public use in wildlife observation and environmental education and interpretation. The refuge staff will cooperate with partners and volunteers to achieve the refuge’s goals. The Fish and Wildlife Service will continue to conduct research in cooperation with government agencies, nongovernmental agencies, universities, and others. The refuge will have adequate staff and facilities to realize this vision.
Each unit of the National Wildlife Refuge System is established to serve a statutory purpose that targets the conservation of native species dependent on its lands and waters. All activities on those acres are reviewed for compatibility with this statutory purpose.
The purpose of Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge is to protect and conserve migratory birds and other wildlife resources through the protection of wetlands, in accordance with the following:
“... as a refuge and breeding ground for birds and wild animals, and (2) that such portion as the Secretary of Agriculture [Interior] may deem proper be reserved for use as a shooting area, to be operated under a cooperative agreement or lease .... With regard to the waters ... the Secretary of Agriculture [Interior] ... may enter into a cooperative agreement or lease ... said waters may be used for fishing purposes …" (Executive Order 6924, dated Dec. 18, 1934)
“... for use as an inviolate sanctuary, or for any other management purpose, for migratory birds.”16 U.S.C. § 715d (Migratory Bird Conservation Act of 1929)
“... for the development, advancement, management, conservation, and protection of fish and wildlife resources ... 16 U.S.C. §742f(a)(4)
“... for the benefit of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, in performing its activities and services. Such acceptance may be subject to the terms of
any restrictive or affirmative covenant, or condition of servitude …" 16 U.S.C. §742f(b)(1) (Fish and Wildlife Act of 1956)
Other Facilities in this Complex
The refuge is managed as part of the Coastal North Carolina National Wildlife Refuge Complex. A National Wildlife Refuge Complex is an administrative grouping of two or more refuges, wildlife management areas or other refuge conservation areas that are primarily managed from a central office location. Refuges are grouped into a complexbecause they occur in a similar ecological region, such as a watershed or specific habitat type, and have a related purpose and management needs.
There are 9 national wildlife refuges in the Coastal North Carolina National Wildlife Refuges Complex. The Project Leader for the Complex supervises the Refuge Managers who are responsible for managing these refuges. However, there are five distinct and separate administrative offices. Alligator River and Pea Island National Wildlife Refuges are administered from the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters in Manteo, NC. An administrative office at the Mackay Island National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters in Knotts Island, NC manages both Mackay Island and Currituck National Wildlife Refuges. An office at Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge administers Mattamuskeet, Swanquarter, and Cedar Island National Wildlife Refuges. Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, Roanoke River National Wildlife Refuge, Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge, and Edenton National Fish Hatchery each have separate administrative offices.
All of the Coastal North Carolina National Wildlife Refuges, Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge, and Edenton National Fish Hatchery are open to public visits for nature-based recreational enjoyment. Priority public uses are hunting, fishing, wildlife observation, wildlife photography, environmental education, and interpretation.