A visit to the swamps and former swamps of North Carolina

NEW HOLLAND, N.C. — It's been nearly 80 years since investors abandoned their effort to drain Lake Mattamuskeet and farm the rich soil of the lake bed. Once a commercial farm that produced 15-foot stalks of corn, the 40,000-acre lake has been reclaimed by a bonanza of fish that swim in its shallow waters and waterfowl that return each winter to nibble at corn and wild celery in nearby fields.

That people once felt the need to drain North Carolina's largest lake says much about life in the lowlands of Hyde and Beaufort counties, a waterlogged region where residents often joke that a man's ditch is more important than his wife.

The 1939 Federal Writers' Project's "Guide to the Old North State" notes that in this corner of North Carolina "swamps make much of this land impractical for farming." Thanks to all those ditches, though, the area is now home to 90,000 acres of some of most productive farmland in the country. A summer visit to New Holland is a bit like stepping into a greenhouse, albeit one with lots of bugs.

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