In the last days of the summer heat we flock to the lake to enjoy just a few more days of the tranquil life. It’s been ages since I’ve actually merged with the waters and allowed myself to slip from the busy outside world. I’ve piloted small cruisers and pontoon boats on the lake and it’s nice to be able to cover the range of travel that Summersville Lake offers but in some ways the larger vessels are also a barrier to the experience of the water. But a small human powered craft is more than a mode of travel. It’s a link that syncs with the environment. The connection to the water is undeniable from the moment you settle in and begin to stroke the water with an oar or paddle. The motorboat is a fine machine but canoes, kayaks and jon boats are living beings with a soul of their own. As you glide through the water your craft speaks to you. Her voice is more felt than heard as she guides you to the other side of lake. The bond is a partnership of human and boat as they perform a choreographed dance through the liquid world. Perhaps the voyage is to track a fish waiting in special spot or maybe it’s journey of discovery just to see what’s over there on the other shore. Or maybe it’s all about the solitude of a quiet cove laden with driftwood and to spot the deer enjoying a rest in the shadows. The opportunity for enjoying this bond is growing shot. The Lake itself will soon leave it’s summer home in the mountains of West Virginia and march south to Gulf of Mexico to join the Atlantic Ocean. And old Sol grows weary from lending his warmth to the world.
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Driving cautiously down the winding road to the tail waters of Gauley River I think about my Grandfather. He was one of the many men who built Summerville Dam. In the days before the dam, the raging Gauley River destroyed small towns downstream. Near my home is Brown’s Service Station. The Owner once pointed out to me a watermark on the wall of his office from one of the pre-dam floods. I’m guessing that the water had to be 12 feet high in order to make the stain. When it was finally decided that something had to be done a monumental effort was made. There’s a great Video of the men building the Summerville Dam on YouTube. I know that my grandfather was one of the heavy equipment operators but I’ve not been able to recognize him in the video.
Today, the dam not only helps us to control flooding but it’s become a wealth generator to the local economy. The campers and boaters who spend summer on the lake also spend money in town. At the time of this writing, Gauley season is fully open and whitewater enthusiasts are enjoying the rapids as the Corps Of Engineers drain the lake to winter pool levels.
Rafters taking a break on pillow rock below Carnifex Ferry Battlefield State Park. Image was taken at the extreme range of my 300 mm lens.
The highly oxygenated water below the dam is popular among fisherman too. On any given morning the banks full of lines cast into the eddies in hopes that a trout will come to dinner.
As I stand at the foot of dam and look up I’m in awe of the accomplishment. The tunnel on the left is large enough for a train to pass through and a highway is on top of the dam. Just on the other side of this massive earthen dam is the sunken community of Gad,West Virginia. There is of course the local story of how close Government came to naming this are Gad Dam Lake which would have been a gold mine for memes and internet trolls.
I hope you’ve enjoyed tonight’s post but nothing beats coming to West Virginia for whitewater sports or just relaxing by the water. It’s all made possible by the flood control of Summersville Dam.
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As the morning sun breaks over the distant ridge I can hear the voices coming from the rushing water in the valley below. The mists slowly rise up the mountain reminding me of something that might be seen in Tolkien’s world of Middle Earth. One by one the large rubber rafts come bouncing over the rapids . They’ve traveled from all over the world to experience the thrill of the Gauley River. The Corps Of Engineers and draining the lake for the oncoming winter. I believe that there’s magic in our mountains. All of the fun and joy of summer on Summerville Lake is stored up in the lake itself and released in the fall as whitewater. The fun then moves up paddles and is absorbed into the hands. Eventually this magical essence of fun travels through the heart and comes out as excitement and laughter. The magic is amplified by the canyon walls until it spills over high cliffs and I smile as it touches me. Switching to my long lens I capture a few frames of the rafts passing by and enjoy the last of my coffee. The big blue truck is waiting to take me to the next leg of my journey so I pack my gear and slip behind the wheel. Just before pulling out I roll the window down and allow the magic to fill the cab. Call it “one for the road”.
I have to admit that I have never been in a kayak before. I’ve always had small rowboats. Still, there’s a strong sense of freedom that comes from gliding over the water and going someplace that you’ve never been. I guess that it’s the perception of a broken barrier. We seem to crave a life without any restrictions. Thanks to Hollywood our perspective of what constitutes an adventure is colored by images of Indiana Jones trudging through the jungle or people in some life and death struggle with the elements. But adventure can be as simple as deciding to do something new. It doesn’t even have to be a thousand miles away from home. In fact there’s a lot to be said for having a warm bed and WiFi when the sun goes down. But I digress. My Appalachian Mountains are full of rivers and streams with all kinds of little coves and hidden beauty to explore. I have been told by a friend that while exploring a local river he found a hidden cash of prehistoric stone points. (I’m sworn to secrecy as to the exact spot on which river). Even the little creek that runs through my yard has yielded a few fossils. But the best reward we get from our rivers is the tranquility that comes from peacefully floating around and going wherever your heart takes you.