BEDFORD COUNTY, Va. – Community members got to see the new Smith Mountain Lake master plan for the first time Monday Night, and the plan aims to draw even more people to the area.
The planning is no easy task as this particular state park is one of the most favored in the entire state. That's why state and local leaders hope to add more lodging options to keep people in the area. Smith Mountain Lake State Park opened in 1983 and is a staple for not only access to the lake, but access to nature and solitude as well.
The park has always operated under a master plan, previous revisions called for the popular beach and boat ramp that exists today, and this is the latest revision. Items are ranked by priority and sorted into three phases, no funding has been secured, and changes would need state lawmaker approval. Right now these are dream items, but planners hope to make them realities in order to make a good place an even better place to continue to create memories and moments for visitors.
But the commercial side of the state park has to be balanced with the preservation of wildlife and vegetation that also call the area home. Monday's meeting at the park's discovery center right was set to a backdrop of a now off-season lake, with still lake water and abundant sounds of nature.
It's a favorite time of year for the Friends of Smith Mountain Lake State Park and its board president Doug Kuhn. He came to Monday's meeting hoping to see nature preservation at the top of the list.
"The friends as I mentioned have an emotional attachment to the park, and we look at it in probably somewhat of a different fashion than the people who do the planning," Kuhn said.
Park manager Brian Heft has been at the park for a large chunk of his adult life and has seen generations of families come through. He's proud to tell people that Smith Mountain Lake State Park has a 98% positive feedback rating from visitors who said they would be willing to recommend the park to family and friends.
For locals, the park is one of the few places to access a public beach on the water, and for people from out of town, it's an affordable place to spend the night. Because of that, demand is high, and the park wants to grow.
"With 1,200 acres we still have some areas to grow and that's what we're really looking at, the vision of the future and how we would grow the state park," Heft said.
The planners are tasked with finding the balance between preservation and commercial offerings. The park generated more than $1 million in revenue in 2018, and cabin vacancies during the season are few and far between.
That's why much of the master plan focuses on upgrading the amenities of the park with new boat slips and a fuel station, 60 new campsites with yurts and bath houses, as well as more cabins to meet the demand. There's also hopes of a new picnic area, fishing piers, new playgrounds and road improvements. For many people, the state park provides some of the only access to the water as compared to those who own homes on the shoreline or belong to marinas with water access.
"In the early 60's you could go to any road and pretty much camp right at the lake, you can't do that now, so we are very important for just public access," Heft said.
The park brings in people, and their dollars, from across the country, which generates money to spend on preservation. Folks such as Kuhn recognize that important fact and hope that they are able to strike a balance between amenities and getting back to the basics.
"The friends have an emotional side to our feelings of the park, as long as we can synthesize that and have it work together we'll be in good shape," Kuhn said.
Public comment on the draft master plan will be accepted in writing until October 30th.