The fish came from Bay Tree Lake, located just off N.C. 41 East, near the Sampson County line.
Forty years ago, there were virtually no fish in Bay Tree, and none the size of the big bass in Jones' office.
But after a dream, an article in a scientific journal, and a lot of hard work, a lake that was a century away from becoming a marsh is now becoming a residential haven.
While the whole community is called Bay Tree Lakes, it is actually composed of two lakes, Bay Tree and Horsepen. The two are connected by a series of navigable canals, the banks of which are lined with middle- and upper-middle class homes.
But before there was a Bay Tree Lake, there was only a marshy, uninviting, dark-water body of water called Black Lake.
Tangled and remote
Black Lake was originally a spot to be avoided if possible.
Swampland surrounded some areas, and the layers of peat-centuries-old rotten pinestraw and vegetative matter-made the soil hard for walking, and practically worthless for farming most crops.
Some area residents didn't even know it existed. While Jones, White and Singletary Lakes lay along major trails that eventually became colonial roads and major highways, Black Lake was well off the beaten path, deep in Colly township.
Like many bay lakes, Black Lake is essentially a pond on a hill surrounded by peat soil and pine trees. Heavy underwater growth and the tannic acid from thousands of trees made it virtually impossible for aquatic life to survive.
Stumps, old tree trunks, and other obstructions made the bottom dangerous. Wading in the water meant fighting through deep, soft muck.
The dark water gave Bay Tree its first name-Black Lake.
While the water is still a cool, tea-brown color, the bottom is no longer a muddy mess of peat and broken trees. Thousands of tons of white sand, a handful of canals, and an engineering miracle later,
Bay Tree Lakes is now a vacation destination and a permanent home.
"There was a lot of hard work
involved," said Jones, "and there's still a lot to do, but from the moment I saw this place, I knew what it could be."
An idea forms
A retired attorney from Clinton, Jones was fascinated with the Carolina Bay lakes after reading a 1949 article by Dr. David Frey of UNC-Chapel Hill's zoology department.
"I can't to this day tell you how I came across it," he said.
Geologists have never agreed what caused the lakes, whether they were formed by springs, melting icebergs and strong winds, or meteor showers.
Whatever caused the bays, most dried up or became bog land after several hundred or a thousand years. Some of the larger bays became stable lakes-White Lake, Jones Lake, Lake Waccamaw, Black Lake, and others.
It was thought that since Black Lake was geographically lower than the others in the immediate area, drainage from the other lakes as well as the surrounding peat-rich pinelands concentrated there.
Frey speculated that if the drainage patterns could be changed around Black Lake, the water wouldn't have to be black.
If tannins and other chemicals were carried away, the water could be clear, and the lake could be developed successfully.
Jones thought it would work.
In 1965, he and a group of businessmen formed a company to purchase a section of the land surrounding Black Lake. The lake itself, like all bays, was (and still is) owned by the state, but all the property surrounding the lake was privately owned.
"There was some potential here," he said, "if we could get it to work."
Jones, L.H. Harvin Jr., John L. Crist Jr., Howard H. Hubbard, Richard Urquhart, and Jones' brother, J. Purcell Jones, decided to take a chance. They took an option on the land and began planning an upscale development like those that now dot the coastline.
"We had no idea the project would work," Jones said.
The men obtained permission from the state to lower the water level in the lake, and alter the drainage pattern via a series of canals. One major canal circled the entire property.
"As it turned out," Jones said, "we may not have needed the big canal."
By spring of 1965, Black Lake had lost two feet of water, but that wasn't enough to sufficiently clean the lake.
Jones went back to the state and obtained permission to completely drain the lake.
"I knew that could be some valuable property around there," he said. "White Lake was already crowded. There was room for something entirely different, and with some careful planning I knew it could be a showplace."
With the lake drained, the developers waited for the peat to dry and harden. Stumps and debris were cleared. Six inches of white sand was brought in and spread across the entire floor of the lake.
"This was before the environmental laws we have now," he said. "This type of project could never be done today."
Some sand was actually pumped from below the peat in the lake, and while other loads were hauled from other deposits in the area.
In 1970, Jones said, it was time to refill Black Lake.
Water was diverted from the canals which had kept the surrounding wetlands from draining into the lake. Sand berms were built up where these canals fed into the lake, helping to filter some of the tannin and other materials from the water.
The project also completely rerouted the flow of the water. Most bay lakes drain from the northwest to southeast. By changing the drain pattern, Jones said, the deposits brought into the basin were dropped elsewhere.
As the water levels in the lake rose, Jones and the developers realized that Dr. Frey's speculation was actually fact.
The water was clear and clean. Fish became abundant in the lake, and other wildlife moved into the area as well.
Black Lake was gone, and Bay Tree Lake-named for the flowering, slick-leaved evergreens so common in the area-was born.
Construction began on the first phase of the residential projects in 1973, and has barely slowed since. While development doesn't take place at the fast pace of developments closer to the coast, Jones said construction is almost always going on at Bay Tree.
"People like Bay Tree because it's clean, and not crowded," Jones said.
The 13,500 acres of land surround part of the 1,700-acre lake and its smaller, manmade cousin, Horsepen Lake. Most homes in the development have a view of the water, and many have boating access.
Jones was quick to point out that the development company takes pains to preserve as much of the natural state of the area as possible.
"(In most cases) landowners have to ask permission to cut down a tree during the building process," Jones said.
"We wanted to have a beautiful lake where people could enjoy living, without all the crowding," he said. "I think we're succeeding."
The other side of the pond
The other property surrounding the lake is owned by hunting clubs, farming companies, and the state of North Carolina.
One section of it has no roads, very little in the way of paths, and virtually no white sand. The waterfront is hard to access, and many areas are rarely if ever seen by humans.
On a recent afternoon, the tracks of deer, bear, fox, rabbits, raccoons, possums, and other wildlife were easily visible in areas where the peat gave way to sandy loam.
The woods are full of the widely-spaced pines, scrub oaks and other trees that favor the bay habitat.
It has probably changed little since the development of the Carolina Bay ecosystem.
And Angelia Allcox wants to see it stay that way, as much as possible.
"The whole idea of state parks is preserving for the future," she said. "We want to be sure one area will always be pristine."
Allcox is superintendent of Singletary Lakes Group Camp. The Bay Tree preserve is a satellite of Singletary Lake.
One of the lake's original developers gave the state a donation of 609 acres for the development of a state park.
The future site of Bay Tree State Park is a satellite of Singletary Lake Group Camp.
Allcox knows Bay Tree well, even though little goes on at the proposed park site.
Her office issues lake-related permits, enforces boating laws, and patrols all of the state's bay lakes. Permits for docks, piers, wharfs and any construction that may affect the canals or lakes at Bay Tree come through her office. State Park Rangers also patrol Bay Tree by boat.
Officials hope someday to move the lakes administration office to a new facility at Bay Tree Lake, where the state has plans to eventually construct a full public access area with boating, swimming, camping and picnic areas.
"Right now," allcox said, "all we do is patrol it."
State Park property that is undeveloped falls into a gray area.
Activities allowed at state parks are generally allowed, and hunting, all-terrain-vehicles, and some other types of vehicles are forbidden.
Drinking alcohol, littering, and possession of illegal drugs are also considered serious offenses.
But with no developed recreational areas-and especially no safety systems in place-activity at the future park is highly discouraged.
"If people don't use common sense," Allcox said, "it becomes an attractive nuisance. I have a mortal fear of someone getting down to the lakeside and getting hurt or drowning, and we can't get back there to help them."
Fires-both by carelessness and arson-are a major concern throughout the forests surrounding the bays.
The peat-rich soil, combined with layers of old pinestraw and storm-killed trees, make the area favorable to major forest fires of the kind that swept around Bay Tree last year.
Fire gets into the peat and can burn underground as deep as several feet, making the ground unsafe even for foot traffic, much less heavy firefighting vehicles.
If parties, forest fires or four-wheelers become a problem, Allcox said, the property will become off-limits.
"We don't mind people that go out there and behave themselves and enjoy nature," Allcox said, "but if there starts to be a lot of trouble out there, we will have to shut down access."
Allcox said rangers have a good relationship with neighboring property owners and hunters from surrounding leased properties.
"They let us know when people are back in there that shouldn't be," she said.
State park personnel, wildlife enforcement officers, and deputies regularly patrol the area.
"We won't hesitate to write someone a citation if they are abusing the park land," she said.
Though the property is small compared to some state parks-just over 600 acres, and much of that wetlands-Allcox said it is a haven for wildlife.
"There's some pretty country through there," she said. "I look forward to the day when we can develop it and make good use of that resource."
The ongoing state budget crisis-which at one point threatened to close down Singletary Park-has put development of the Bay Tree site on indefinite hold.
"I'd like to say it could be open to the public in five years," she said, "but no one knows. It's a work in progress."