Summersville Lake in late September is always a bittersweet experience. Most of the people on the lake now are locals and and only a handful of boats send ripples across her surface. A small group children still play at the Battle Run swimming area. Their laughter carries across the receeding lake like summer’s last echoes. This is the Fall of 2020 and young blood has been fated to a few extra days of sunshine and pleasure. In my heart I know that it’s a more natural way of living. But the sounds of joyous freedom are mingled with the laughter of crows as well. The dark birds know full well that in just a few weeks the sun will sleep and the leaves will turn bright colors before dropping to ground. When the air is cool enough the lake will be their’s save for the most dedicated fishermen that hope to draw a walleye from the chilling depths. As I stand on the newly revealed shoreline and gaze across the waning water I find myself both mournful that the season has come to a close and yet thankful for the the solitude offered by the emptying resovore.
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The September sky was crystal blue and the time of the Equinox signaled an end to Summer’s warm carefree days. The sun hangs low on the horizon. She meets him by the boat launch as her father and brother packs the camp. The last weekend is nearly over. This is last hour of their summer romance. Here on the edge of the fading lake they embrace beneath the sun and moon. Like the celestial bodies above they can only share the same sky for a short season. The lake boy looks deep into her eyes which are the same color blue as the sky. She noticed how the summer sun has left it’s golden tone on his skin. They continue stare silently into each other. Memorizing every line of the other’s face. Every freckle on his face and every colorful fleck in her eyes. The summer was a time when two worlds met and joined as one. But like the sun and moon the forces of nature will only allow the sharing of the sky for so long. As the embrace for summer’s last kiss, he reaches into the pocket of his shorts and pulls out a small box. “Close your eyes” he whispers. She’s a little bit nervous about what comes next but she trusts him and does as he asks. He places a golden chain around her neck. Suspended from it was a locket. It was small but elegant. Inside was the picture of the two of them on the local fishing pier. Her brother had taken the snapshot when they wasn’t looking. “Don’t let me be forgotten” he whispered once more as he clasped the necklace about her neck. A single tear rolls down her cheek and she thanked him for the gift. By now her family waits patiently in the packed car. “I’ll be waiting here for you next summer” she replied with her voice cracking. “True love is faithful no matter how long and cold the nights to come will be.” She added. With no way to delay their parting any longer the young lake boy stepped aboard his day cruiser and drifting off of the shore. He watched with anguish as she got in the car and went home for the school year. Throughout the coming months they would call, text and even attend prom together. The following summer they met again in the same spot by the boat launch. And never parted ways again.
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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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The hot summer sun slowly sinks into the West and I can feel the coolness of the night sweep across the Lake. On the other shore near the sunset I can hear the doors of cars shutting as the engines pur to life and the swimmers make their way home. The smell of food cooked over an open flame lingers in the air. Small birds begin to skim across the water catching insects. The bird songs soon give way to the chirping of crickets and the occasional sound of a treefrog close to the shore. Deeper into the woods the hair raising cry of a screech owl rings out as he challenges his rivals for territory. Soon the evening star raises over the mountains signaling an end to the day. The headlights of my big blue truck come to life when I use the remote to unlock the door. It’s time to ease back up the gravel road and go process the images of the day.
I remember when the crosses started showing up along the highways. The man who started this project was Bernard Coffindafferand He was from Craigsville, West Virginia. Not too far from my home. He was certainly a man on a mission. My understanding is that the Spirit of God spoke to him and gave him a commission for the work that needed to be done. He was a six year veteran of the Pacific Theater in World War Two and as a Former Marine nothing was going to stand in his way.
I never met him personally that I can remember but I remember the talk in the county. He had a lot support from his brothers and sisters in Christ but he also faced a lot criticisms and laughter. He didn’t let negative opinions get in the way. He just stood for what he believed in and continued to work anyway. I have read that the project never ended even though Bernardpassed away in 1993. I have also read that some of crosses have been planted in the Philippines and Africa. It just shows that when God gives you some inspiration you should go with it. You might not realize how far it will go or how many lives will be touched.