Forbidding as its name may be, the Great Dismal Swamp is one of the few natural American gems remaining in the East. The northern limit of range for many wild creatures, it is a haven for black bear, bobcat, river otter, poisonous snakes, and many rare plants. Less fearsome are yellow-bellied and spotted turtles, lizards, salamanders, frogs and toads. Over two hundred species of birds have been identified. Two southern species, the Swainson's warbler and Wayne's warbler (a race of the Black-throated Green warbler), are more common in the Great Dismal Swamp than in other coastal locations. Other birds of interest are the wood duck, barred owl, pileated woodpecker, and prothonotary warbler.
Despite its impressive size and age, the Great Dismal Swamp remains a mystery to most people. Its foreboding forests protect its wildlife and ward off intruders. But for those who venture in, the swamp shelters a wealth of history and lore, flora and fauna.
Public access to the Great Dismal was never possible in North Carolina until the park opened. Pedestrians are able to cross a new 80' long swing bridge across the historic Dismal Swamp Canal to visit the Park. The bridge, which is open only to pedestrians and bicyclists, provides the only access to the 5,600 sq.ft. Visitors Center. It floats on the water and will remain in the closed position when not in use to permit boating traffic on the waterway. Adjacent to the bridge is a new canoe & kayak launch.
Joy Greenwood, Superintendent of the 14,344 acre Dismal Swamp State Park, says the bridge should remove some of the mystery of the swamp. The park eventually will include 20 miles of hiking and mountain biking trails, all of which will run along old logging routes throughout the swamp.
Interpretive programs take place throughout the year, covering a variety of topics on cultural and natural history of the Dismal Swamp. Park Rangers guide visitors on exciting explorations to uncover fascinating natural surroundings and make great discoveries about the world in which we live.
The vast swamp, which encompasses Chesapeake, Suffolk and northeastern North Carolina, is becoming a popular destination. Years ago, it was largely forested wetlands, but today, it is a popular spot for paddling, hiking, biking, birding, camping, hunting and picnicking. It is the site of the annual Paddle for the Border canoe and kayak journey from Chesapeake, VA, to South Mills, NC.
The Park's 600-square-foot Exhibition Hall offers a glimpse into the swamp's history as a sanctuary for runaway slaves, a commercial trade route, and logging activities, offering interactive exhibits. The auditorium has removable seating for up to 60 people.
Penny Leary-Smith, director of the Dismal Swamp Canal Welcome Center off US 17 in South Mills, had a vision years ago that the swamp could be developed to offer more to the public. "It's taken 14 years to get it this far, a reality," she said. The Dismal Swamp Canal Welcome Center, which draws more than 600,000 travelers a year, sits on the east side of the canal from the new park and Visitor/Education Center.
To visit the area, bring your family, bicycles, canoe/kayak, and a picnic lunch. Walk on the Nature Trail, bike the 4.5 mile Dismal Swamp Canal Trail, or paddle the still dark waters of the oldest hand-dug waterway in the country … in use today as part of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway. Come play in our history!
For more information about the Great Dismal Swamp: Dismal Swamp Canal Welcome Center