- The Washington Times - Friday, May 19, 2006

Ask most Virginians where Lake Moomaw is, and the answer is a shrug or a “don’t know.” Yet Lake Moomaw is an outstanding recreation destination in the mountains of western Virginia, close to Covington and Warm Springs.

Many of those who visit this lovely lake rate it as the premier freshwater fishing and boating opportunity in Virginia, but Moomaw’s recreational opportunities go far beyond the incredible boating, fishing and hiking.

The 12-mile-long lake was created when the Army Corps of Engineers built the Gathright Dam on the Jackson River, northwest of where the Jackson meets the Cowpasture to form the James River, Virginia’s largest.

Lake Moomaw is within the George Washington and Jefferson national forests. Along its 43 miles of shoreline are three main campgrounds and numerous smaller campsites, large beaches, boat launches, hiking trails and access to fishing. This area offers families or couples excellent water- and forest-recreation opportunities.

Once the Jackson River was dammed, it filled up the surrounding valleys for miles around. The dam site is well worth seeing and can be accessed by boat to a nearby vantage point. This may be the closest a person can come via water access to a large dam in Virginia. Part of the dam facility looks like an unfinished highway bridge extending into the lake. There is road access to the facility and a visitors center detailing the building and ongoing mission of the dam.

BOATING

Lake Moomaw is an inviting and rewarding destination for all boats 25 feet or less in length, and boats of many sizes and speeds travel across the mostly placid lake waters: pontoon or party boats, custom bass boats, streaking speedboats and the lower-tech kayaks and canoes. The boat visitors take to Moomaw will shape their experience.

The center of the lake, where the water is deeper than 120 feet, is where the largest and fastest boats go. Few lakes in Virginia offer such a long stretch to allow boaters to open their throttles.

The bass boats, pontoons and small motor boats have plenty of room for their occupants to see the far ends of the lake and tributary creeks as well as the quiet, marshy inlets and small harbors. Canoes and kayaks offer the best ways to get to the lake’s most remote inlets and marshes for fishing, photography, wildlife viewing or an escape to peace and quiet.

The marina is clean and well run. It offers plenty of parking for trailers and has a small general store for bait, snacks and gas as well as for fishing tips. In addition to the one official marina, three other boat-docking launches can be found around the lake, but they are not all able to take on the largest boats that come to Lake Moomaw.

I have boated on Lake Moomaw only in smaller craft. Canoeing or kayaking across the lake on a still,foggy morning before the larger boats disturb the peace is a wonderful experience. Much of the shore may be obscured in early-morning fog. Herons, geese, cormorants and ducks are already out, searching quietly for breakfast, as are the early-rising anglers.

FISHING

There are trophy fish to pull out of Lake Moomaw, both small-mouth and large — check the pictures at the marina for confirmation.

Visitors do not need a boat to catch trophy fish, for much of the fishing is done from the shore, from one of the islands or peninsulas in the lake, or from one of the docks.

Because Lake Moomaw is a deep valley filled with the dammed water of the Jackson, the water can drop off very quickly.

Many species and sizes of fish can be found in the lake: Trout, bass, catfish, crappie, pike, carp and bluegill and other sunfish are ready to test an angler’s skills from the shallows of the inlets to the depths at the center of the lake.

SWIMMING

The water in Lake Moomaw is surprisingly warm, especially after the first of June. Parts of the lake, however, are not recommended for swimming because of the steep drop from the mountaintop shores. The lake has a nice, clean and safe roped-off swimming area next to a docking pier and offers clean changing rooms and restrooms. This area is a favorite of families looking for a calm-water area.

Two other beaches are available for swimmers and sunbathers in addition to the island beaches in the middle of the lake.

HIKING

There are more than 50 miles of hiking trails within the Bolar Mountain Recreation Area, which includes Lake Moomaw. If only one trail can be chosen in this area, I recommend hiking the moderately strenuous Greenwood Point Trail.

From Campground No. 3, the 3.3-mile trail to the Greenwood Point Campground is outstanding. It provides amazing views from above the lake and along the shoreline. When one is walking on the ridgeline above Moomaw, islands are clearly visible in the middle of the lake, and shore views lie in two opposite directions.

At ground level, the trail passes through trees crowding the inlets along the way. Early in the day, hikers can see the sun rising over the mountains and watch the earliest sunlight filtering through the tree line into the dark forest. There may be numerous signs of wildlife along the way, from deer tracks to bear scat, soaring hawks above and the flitter of nearby cardinals.

Those who hike this trail from the campgrounds to Greenway Point are rewarded with a primitive campground with no RVs, trucks or cars. The only way to get to this wooded peninsula is on foot or by boat.

There are six official campsites complete with well-built sand tent pads, campfire rings, picnic tables, and two portable outhouses, but no potable water. The campgrounds stretch west from a small bay on Lake Moomaw into the woods on the other side of the peninsula.

Walking up from the water and small-boat beach into the campgrounds, one almost gets the feeling of being on an unkempt golf fairway. The return hike to the trail head is on the same route, making a round-trip hike of about 61/2 miles.

FLORA AND FAUNA

This area of national forest is rich in flora and fauna. An occasional black bear may be sighted, but deer, wild turkey, grouse, squirrels, including the southern flying squirrel, gray and red foxes, barred owls, downey and pilated woodpeckers, great blue and green-backed herons and several species of turtles are common.

Besides many ferns, mosses and grasses, wildflowers and shrubs include dogwood (the state flower), wild hydrangea, golden ragwort, golden aster, thorned blackberry, black raspberry, black elderberry, staghorn sumac, spring beauty, trout lily, witch hazel and northern swamp buttercup. Milkweed is common in the Lake Moomaw area.

At times, the forest is rich with many varieties of mushrooms and other fungi, and there are numerous kinds of trees, such as black walnut, sycamore, pine, cedar, poplar, hickory, oak and maple.

WARM SPRINGS RESORT

The Resort at Warm Springs would make a wonderful addition to a long Moomaw weekend. In addition to an outstanding hotel spa, the resort has a first-rate conference center and an excellent golf course. Other challenging golf courses — including the Homestead in Hot Springs and, in West Virginia, the Greenbrier resort — are not far from Warm Springs. In fact, many mineral springs are found in this area of Virginia.

Warm Springs is a quaint town with many dining opportunities, shopping and numerous bed-and-breakfast accommodations. The town offers wonderful Virginia country hospitality, and it is well worth spending at least an afternoon here in conjunction with a visit to the lake area. Much of “Sommersby,” starring Jodie Foster and Richard Gere, was filmed in the Warm Springs area.

• • •

For more information on Lake Moomaw, contact the George Washington and Jefferson National Forest, Warm Springs Ranger District, Route 2, Box 30, Hot Springs, VA 24445; phone 540/839-2521; or go to www.fs.fed.us/r8/gwj; www.bathcountyva.org/recreation/GWNF.htm; www.discoverbath.com/outdoor.htm; and www.finefishing.com/aawhere to/south/moomaw.htm.

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