The N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation and The Conservation Fund will host a ribbon-cutting event Friday, Oct. 27 at 10:30 a.m. to mark the addition of land acreage to Bakers Lake State Natural Area. This summer, the Division acquired 1,156 acres from The Conservation Fund, a national land conservation and environmental nonprofit organization.
Bakers Lake is one of the Carolina bays, a series of oval depressions along the East Coast, with a large concentration in the Carolinas. Prior to the state’s acquisition, it was the largest unprotected Carolina bay lake in North Carolina.
“This is a momentous occasion that helps conserve this unique geological feature, the picturesque lake, and the natural shoreline ecosystem — one of the best examples in the state of its type of natural community,” said Brian Strong, director of the Division of Parks and Recreation.
The property surrounds the 75-acre lake and features forests of pond pine and a pocosin ecosystem, like other Carolina bays. The site also contains the globally rare Peatland Atlantic White Cedar Forest. The lake serves as the headwaters of Phillips Creek, which flows into the Cape Fear River. Among the first inhabitants of the area were the Waccamaw Siouan and the Coharie.
The land was previously owned by Dr. Clemuel M. Johnson, a dentist and resident of Bladen County. Johnson and his late wife, Nancye, purchased the property in 1981 to create a private retreat for their family and the local community. For many years, family and friends enjoyed camping, paddling, and fishing. The Johnson family decided to permanently conserve the property and share its beauty with the public.
“We are grateful to Dr. Johnson for entrusting us with the future stewardship of this property,” Strong said. “Our staff is well versed in managing these environments. The state parks system currently protects other Carolina bays, including Warwick Mill Bay, which we acquired in the last few years with assistance from conservation partners including The Conservation Fund.”
In 2021, the North Carolina General Assembly authorized the addition of Bakers Lake State Natural Area to the state parks system. Also in 2021, The Conservation Fund purchased the property from Johnson, with the intent to eventually transfer the land to the state for ownership and management. The North Carolina Land and Water Fund and the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund provided the funding for the state to purchase the property.
“It has been a true honor helping implement the Johnsons’ vision for their land to become protected as a new state natural area,” said Bill Holman, senior advisor at The Conservation Fund. “Dr. Johnson and his late wife Nancye have left an amazing legacy that all North Carolina’s residents and visitors can now enjoy in perpetuity. Thanks also goes to Senator Brent Jackson and Representative William Brisson who championed the authorization for the Bakers Lake State Natural Area and who support appropriations for the Parks and Recreation and Land and Water Trust Funds.”
The state natural area will be managed by nearby Jones Lake State Park. The Division plans to improve the road and add a parking area to provide public access. As a state natural area, management priority will be conservation and nature restoration, with recreation facilities limited to passive activities such as hiking, paddling, and photography.
Directions from I-95:
• Use Exit 49 for NC-53/NC-210. Head east on NC-53 for 6 miles, keeping right at the fork with NC-210 South.
• Turn right onto Tabor Church Road and follow it for 8 miles.
• At the fork, keep right onto River Road and follow River Road for 3.3 miles.
• Turn left onto Burney Road and follow it for about 1 mile.
• Turn left onto John T. Council Cemetery Lane, which is a dirt road. Follow the signs.
About North Carolina State Parks
North Carolina State Parks manages more than 250,000 acres of iconic landscape within North Carolina’s state parks, state recreation areas and state natural areas. It administers the N.C. Parks and Recreation Trust Fund, including its local grants program, as well as a state trails program, North Carolina Natural and Scenic Rivers and more, all with a mission dedicated to conservation, recreation and education. The state parks system welcomes more than 19 million visitors annually.
About the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources
The N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources (DNCR) manages, promotes, and enhances the things that people love about North Carolina – its diverse arts and culture, rich history, and spectacular natural areas. Through its programs, the department enhances education, stimulates economic development, improves public health, expands accessibility, and strengthens community resiliency.
The department manages over 100 locations across the state, including 27 historic sites, seven history museums, two art museums, five science museums, four aquariums, 35 state parks, four recreation areas, dozens of state trails and natural areas, the N.C. Zoo, the N.C Symphony, the State Library, the State Archives, the N.C. Arts Council, the African American Heritage Commission, the American Indian Heritage Commission, the State Historic Preservation Office, the Office of State Archaeology, the Highway Historical Markers program, the N.C. Land and Water Fund, and the Natural Heritage Program. For more information, please visit www.ncdcr.gov.