- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 29, 2002

PEMBROKE, Va. (AP) An exploratory well drilled near Mountain Lake Hotel did not find enough water to pump back into the lake, raising the possibility that the resort's owners will have to depend on Mother Nature to refill the lake.
But a biologist who proposed tapping the underground stream said crews may have looked for water in the wrong place and that his original idea could still replenish the draining lake in Giles County.
In October, the hotel's owners said they planned to drill a well and try to pump water back up the mountain and into the lake, which is steadily draining through a hole in its bedrock bottom. Crews dug a well 600 feet into the ground but turned up only a few gallons of water per minute, rather than the desired 200 gallons per minute.
At the time, Mountain Lake was at about 47 percent capacity, or roughly 25 feet below normal.
H.M. "Buzz" Scanland Jr., general manager of the adjacent Mountain Lake Hotel, said last week that recent rain and snow refilled the lake somewhat. But he said it would take an extremely wet winter to counter the effects of several years of drought and the lake's natural drain.
"Hopefully, the trend is changing," Mr. Scanland told the Roanoke Times.
Biologists Bruce Parker of Virginia Tech and Jon Cawley of Roanoke College have theorized that Mountain Lake the southern Appalachians' only large, natural lake and the site of filming for the hit movie "Dirty Dancing" periodically drains through the hole and runs down the fault line before resurfacing downhill.
Over time, erosion probably widens the hole and allows more water to drain from the lake. Extended droughts exacerbate the situation, Mr. Parker and Mr. Cawley have said.
Their research, as well as historical texts, show that Mountain Lake has shrunk to pond size several times in the past few hundred years, which helps explain why the area's original settlers named the lake "Salt Pond."
Tree stumps rooted in the ground 25 to 30 feet below the normal lake surface also show that Mountain Lake can remain at less than 50 percent capacity for decades.
Mr. Cawley and Mr. Parker believe the lake eventually refills after earthquakes pinch the hole closed again.
Officials with Texas-based Mary Moody Northen Endowment, which owns the resort and the lake property, plan to meet again next month to discuss the lake level.
"Either they will drill another [well] or let nature take its course," Mr. Scanland said. "There's not much else. We really don't have any other choices."
During a recent interview, Mr. Parker questioned whether the crews drilled in the right location. Mr. Parker said he suggested drilling about 1,500 feet west of where he was told the well was sunk.
Mr. Parker, a retired biologist who studied Mountain Lake for much of his career at Tech, said his proposal was not to drill several hundred feet but to tap the water that appears to be running just a few feet below the ground's surface. Mr. Parker said he would recommend creating a sort of "catchment basin" to allow water to pool and then pumping the water up the mountain and into the basin.

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