Smith Mountain Lake

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Smith Mountain Lake
SmithMtnLake VA.JPG
Location Bedford / Franklin / Pittsylvania counties, Virginia
Coordinates 37°02′28″N 79°32′07″W / 37.04111°N 79.53528°W / 37.04111; -79.53528Coordinates: 37°02′28″N 79°32′07″W / 37.04111°N 79.53528°W / 37.04111; -79.53528
Type reservoir
Primary inflows Roanoke River, Blackwater River
Basin countries United States
Surface area 32 sq mi (83 km2)[1]
Average depth 55 ft (17 m)[1]
Max. depth 250 ft (76 m)[1]
Water volume 2.8 km3 (2,300,000 acre·ft)[1]
Shore length1 500 mi (800 km)
Surface elevation 795 ft (242 m)[2]
References [1][2]
1 Shore length is not a well-defined measure.

Smith Mountain Lake is a large reservoir in the Roanoke Region of Virginia,[3] located southeast of the City of Roanoke and southwest of Lynchburg. The lake was created in 1963 by the Smith Mountain Dam impounding the Roanoke River. The majority of the south shore of the lake lies in Franklin County while a small portion, including access to the dam, lies in Pittsylvania County. Bedford County makes up the northern half of the lake with the Roanoke River as the dividing line. The lake has become a popular recreation spot and has also experienced significant development in the last decade. It is the largest lake contained entirely within the Commonwealth of Virginia.


Further information: Smith Mountain Dam

Initial proposals were made in the late 1920s to dam the Roanoke River and the Blackwater River at the Smith Mountain gorge to generate electricity. Construction on the Smith Mountain Dam began in 1960 and was completed in 1963. The lake reached its normal water level in March 1966. The lake covers 20,600 acres (83 km2) and has over 500 miles (800 km) of shoreline. The north shore of the lake lies entirely in Bedford County.

Located along the lake shore at Wirtz, Virginia is the Gwin Dudley Home Site, listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2008.[4]


Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the area around Smith Mountain Lake remained rural and remote with tobacco farms and other agriculture. Marinas provided the bulk of public access in the early years of the lake. The limited early residential developments around the lake consisted largely of small trailer parks and modest houses. However, residential growth has been steady since the mid-1980s and increasingly upscale with large lakefront houses, condominiums, and communities centered on golf courses. The lake has attracted many who commute to Roanoke and Lynchburg and many retirees, many of whom have relocated from the Northeast. By the late 1990s, the number and affluence of the new residents resulted in the construction of new retail and commercial developments near the lake. Recent shoreline development has been limited to residential construction. With the enactment of Federal oversight of shoreline development in 1998 coupled with soaring real estate values, there is an escalating loss of public access to the lake as the lake's marinas are sold for residential development.

State Route 122 is the only primary highway that crosses the lake, though State Route 24, State Route 116, and State Route 40 are nearby.


American Electric Power (AEP) is licensed to operate the Smith Mountain Project by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). The initial license term was for fifty years. In 1998, AEP began the process of relicensing. Under the requirements of relicensing, AEP was required to perform numerous studies to determine management requirements during the upcoming license term. In December, 2009 the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission granted Appalachian Power a new license to operate the hydro-electricity plant. The new 30-year license replaces the original 50-year license and addresses recreational and environmental management.

Shoreline management[edit]

In 1998, the FERC required AEP to devise and implement a shoreline management plan. The Shoreline Management Plan (SMP) limits the development of all property within the "project boundary." Local zoning regulations have been effectively superseded by the SMP regulations. AEP acts as the permitting agency. Any variance requests are reviewed by interested State and Federal agencies such as Virginia Dept of Game and Inland Fisheries. Disagreements must first proceed to the FERC, then be appealed through the Federal Judicial System.

The SMP has been controversial for several reasons:

  • AEP claims to own the property within the project boundary. However, AEP only acquired flowage easements for much of the property. Many private property owners objected under the opinion that the Federal Government, leveraging AEP's claim to property ownership, has usurped private property rights.
  • While the SMP was under development, AEP was required to consult with various "stakeholders" affected by the plan. Marina operators were significant objectors to the process, since no marina operators were consulted until very late in the process, and then, only indirectly via the chamber of commerce and after protest.
  • Although the SMP deals largely with the design of docks, dock builders were only consulted very late in the process and only indirectly via the chamber of commerce.
  • In addition to marina operators and dock builders being initially left out of the process, only one property developer was represented. However, several representatives of area home owner associations, which are often at odds with residential and commercial development, did participate starting early in the process.
  • While AEP representatives stated orally that AEP does not intend to charge annual fees to maintain property owners' dock "privileges," AEP reserves its right to do so in the SMP.
  • There is concern, since the project is licensed by the FERC, that AEP is more concerned with Federal issues than local matters. Objectors claim that the terms of the SMP do not hold AEP accountable to local concerns. For example, there is no requirement for AEP to process a permit application in a timely manner (as is required by the state for local zoning.)
  • Objectors claim that the SMP assumes AEP's goodwill due to lack of any practical checks against AEP and FERC oversight. While AEP's decisions can be argued in the court system, the burden of legal costs on individuals has, as a practical matter, prevented any lawsuits.
  • Docks existing prior to the implementation of the SMP are not entirely grandfathered; only the "footprint" of the existing docks and only then if the docks are well-maintained. For example, enclosures exceeding the current SMP requirements will not be permitted to be replaced.

Out of growing concern and frustration with AEP management and FERC oversight, is operated by a citizen/business watchdog group to keep the community up-to-date on shoreline management issues.


The area lies in a broad valley nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains of rural south-central Virginia. Before the lake's creation, farming and logging were the primary industries. Communities around the lake include Moneta, Huddleston, Union Hall, White House, Penhook and Goodview. There is no post office with a Smith Mountain Lake mailing address. The Booker T. Washington National Monument is near the west end of the lake.

The level of the lake normally varies by one to two feet during the day and night, as water flows through (and is pumped back through) the dam. The normal maximum level of the lake (also known as "Full Pond") is regulated to 795 feet (242.32 meters) above sea level. The normal observed level (also known as "normal pond") is 794.20 feet (242.07 meters). The level can be significantly lower during periods of extended drought. Lake levels were about six feet below normal from time to time, during the years 2001 to 2003, after five years of below-average rainfall.

Recreation and public access[edit]

Smith Mountain Lake has become a popular recreational area. Boating, water skiing, wakeboarding, riding personal watercraft, and sailing are common activities as is fishing, especially for striped bass. The lake has hosted several professional fishing tournaments. Smith Mountain Lake State Park opened in 1983 and provided a beach and a section for swimming. Golf at one of the four nearby courses is a popular landside activity.

The majority of access to the lake is through private residential property. About a dozen private marinas provide various public access opportunities, which may be fee-based or free (through some have been recently converted to private, residential developments due to economic and regulatory pressure.) The fee-based Smith Mountain Lake State Park (located on the Bedford County side of the lake off of Smith Mountain Parkway Route 626), the free Smith Mountain Community Park (located on the Franklin County side of Smith Mountain Lake) and six government-managed boat launching ramps also provide public access.

In movies[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e "Smith Mountain Lake". Retrieved 2008-05-22. 
  2. ^ a b "Virginia's No Discharge Zones". U. S. Environmental Protection Agency. June 21, 2007. Retrieved 2007-11-18. 
  3. ^ Roanoke Region of Virginia
  4. ^ National Park Service (2010-07-09). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 
  5. ^ ,

External links[edit]