By Ken Wilson –
The air is hot, but the water is not. Paddle it, ski it, plunge a line into or just plain jump in—the cool, cooling water of our lakes and streams and rivers refreshes our bodies and our minds in the always, shall we say, atmospherically challenging Virginia summertime. Here are just of the few lovely places around here where we can cool off and chill out.
Kayaking and canoeing are popular on the Rivanna River and its tributaries. There are boat launches into the river in Riverview Park and Darden Towe Park, and while there is no boat launch per se in Pen Park, the river may also be accessed there as well.
Other popular places to paddle include the South Fork Rivanna and Ragged Mountain reservoirs, and paddle power alone is permitted there.
Boats outfitted with internal combustion engines may be used as long the engines are tilted in a non-operating position and removable gas tanks are removed. The South Fork has a boat launch and parking area on Woodland Road. Ragged Mountain has parking near the dam; boats must be hand-carried to the lake. Boats are prohibited entirely on Sugar Hollow reservoir.
Rivanna River Company co-owner Sonya Silver loves to canoe, but if she goes out on the river by herself she’s likely to do it on a stand-up paddleboard. “Most people think it’s a flat-water type of paddling craft, but we really love to take them on the river as well,” she says. “It’s a lot of fun. You have a long paddle, so it’s kind of like a large surfboard you stand up on and paddle.”
Over in Augusta County, you can canoe right through downtown Waynesboro on the Waynesboro Water Trail, a four-mile stretch of the South River. Boat ramps located at either end, in Ridgeview and Basic parks, make for easy access, but the river is also accessible along the way. Experienced boaters classify the Trail an “easy paddle,” with only Class I and Class II rapids (Class VI is the highest on the scale) along the way. The Trail is open sunrise to sunset.
Waynesboro’s Paddle the Park program offers rentals of solo and tandem kayaks for use in Ridgeview Park on Sunday afternoons until the end of pool season (an August date as yet to be determined). Rentals are first come, first served, and rates are $10 per hour for solo kayaks and $15 per hour for tandem kayaks.
The 62-acre Chris Greene Lake in Albemarle County has a handicapped-accessible pier and a nice boat ramp, and is stocked with largemouth bass, bluegill, crappie, and channel catfish. Walnut Creek Lake (45 water acres and two beach acres) has largemouth bass, channel catfish, and redear sunfish.
Among the most popular spots for enjoying the water in Augusta County are Mossy Creek, the South River, and the Sherando Lakes. Some fishermen, or so the popular imagination has it, are prone to exaggerate the size of their biggest catches. Others, and this is a fact, just boast of fly-fishing Mossy Creek, a limestone-spring creek that attracts but often frustrates even experienced anglers.
Mossy is stocked each fall with fingerling brown trout, and hardy, patient souls crouching on its steep banks—wading is not allowed—tell honest tales of catching 25-inchers. In times of high water after heavy rains—in other words, now—Mossy is at its best.
South River Fly Shop in Waynesboro is just a block from the South River, and shop co-owner Kevin Little calls it “arguably the best public trout-fishing” river in the state. Heavily fed with spring water, Little notes, “It’s temperature-moderated summer and winter.”
In the wintertime, the 50-some degree water flowing in keeps the fish at a higher activity level. In the summer, when most freestone steams get so warm that trout die, the spring water coming in “gives us a temperature buffer and a higher diurnal swing (a bigger variance between the daytime high and the nighttime low) so our trout don’t die. We have trout that have been in this water four to five years.”
The Civilian Conservation Corps built Lower Sherando Lake, 25 acres of cool, spring-fed waters, in the mid-1930s. Today it’s used for swimming, and for fishing largemouth bass, bluegill, redear sunfish, and trophy channel catfish.
Nearby hiking trails meander through the woods and along a small creek, a good place to hunt for fishing holes. The U.S. Soil Conservation Service built Upper Sherando Lake (seven acres), now used exclusively for fishing, in 1958. Upper Sherando has two piers, good for fishing for trout and bass. The area’s family campground has 65 sites.
At Orange County’s Lake Anna, the fishing goes on even in the dead of winter, thanks in part to water flowing into the lake from the nearby Dominion Power’s North Anna Power Station, which can be as much as seven degrees warmer than Mother Nature’s average.
Best known for its lunker largemouth bass, Anna has also been stocked with bluegill, redear sunfish, channel catfish, striped bass, walleye, blueback herring and threadfin shad. Anglers can access the boat ramp starting 5:30 a.m. Lights illuminate the ramp when the sun does not.
The 40-acre Lake Nelson in Nelson County has a boat ramp, a courtesy dock, and gorgeous views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and is stocked with largemouth bass, bluegill, redear sunfish, channel catfish, and crappie. Bank anglers can fish from a large mowed area adjoining the parking lot. Electric engines are permitted here, but gas engines are not.
Water-skiers around here are apt to head to Lake Anna, whose 20 square miles ripple through Louisa, Orange and Spotsylvania counties, making it one of the largest freshwater inland lakes in Virginia. Water ski season at Lake Anna extends from April through October.
Cool air and cool water make full wetsuits or dry-suits necessary early and late in the season. Short wet suits usually suffice by mid- May, and swimsuits will do in June, July and August. For calm water, go out early. For calm spirits, go often.