View of Smith Mountain from the lake

Smith Mountain Lake: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

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Smith Mountain Lake is Virginia’s most visited – and second largest – lake. This page answers the most frequently asked questions about SML.

A: SML is safe to swim in, except near geese, ducks, water fowl, and farm animals – and sometimes following heavy rainfalls that create runoff from farm land or disturb sediment on the lake bottom. Occasionally, following runoff from heavy storms, SMLA temporarily advises against swimming in unsafe areas that are identified by water testing.

A: According to Virginia’s Dept. of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) there are no wild alligators in SML – or anywhere in Virginia except the Dismal Swamp in southeastern Virginia. The state’s wintertime water temperatures are inhospitable to alligators.

A: Yes, but with temporary exceptions. Heavy storms can agitate fecal coliform settled on the lake bottom – usually in shallow areas where waterfowl feed or breed, and occasionally near campgrounds and farm land. Since the late 1980s, Ferrum College and the Smith Mountain Lake Association (SMLA) together monitor and publish the results of water quality testing.

A: SML’s maximum depth is about 250 feet, near the Smith Mountain Dam. The average depth of SML’s 20,600 acres is 55 feet.

A: During the first 50 years of SML’s existence as a reservoir (1966-2016), the lowest and highest recorded water levels were 788 feet and 800 feet above sea level. 795 feet above sea level is known as “full pond” – its highest level under normal weather conditions. During severe drought, it has fallen to as low as 788 feet above sea level. During each day, Appalachian Power temporarily raises and lowers SML’s water level by as much as two feet, enabling hydropower generation. Appalachian Power controls the water level according to its 50-year federal contract, balancing the needs of lake residents with downstream communities, rivers, and lakes – terminating hundreds of miles downstream at the Atlantic Ocean near Virginia Beach.

A: SML’s most popular fish are striped bass, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, crappie, catfish, and yellow perch. Walleyes and muskies are growing in number. SML is among the USA’s top fishing destinations – and has been the site of Bassmaster/ESPN fishing tournaments.

A: The damming of the Blackwater and Roanoke Rivers formed this reservoir in a filling process that began on September 24, 1963 – and ended almost 2.5 years later on March 7, 1966.

Smith Mountain Lake stats

A: There is no hard evidence of a town under Smith Mountain Lake, but there are websites suggesting that the town of “Monroe” was submerged when the lake filled. The lake covers 20,600 acres that were mostly farm land and residences. Small family cemeteries and graves were relocated to dry land before the lake was filled, and now surround the lake.

A: No. Parts of that movie were filmed at Mountain Lake, near Newport, Virginia – and at Lake Lure, North Carolina.

A: Yes. “Lake Effects” (2012) was filmed at SML. “What About Bob?” (1991) was filmed at SML, identified in the movie as “Lake Winnipesaukee.”

A: SML is the largest lake contained entirely within Virginia, with 20,600 acres and 500 miles of shoreline. John H. Kerr Reservoir, located partly in North Carolina, is the largest in Virginia, with a total of 49,000 acres and 800 miles of shoreline. Lake Gaston is third-largest, with 20,300 acres and 350 miles of shoreline – also located partly in North Carolina.

A: No, but that was once the well-earned nickname for Franklin County, which borders and includes the southwest portion of SML. Today, you can buy legal “White Lightning” distilled in nearby Boones Mill. The 2012 movie “Lawless” exaggerates the violence associated with Depression-era moonshining in Franklin County.

A: No, but part of SML, including about five miles of its shoreline, is part of Smith Mountain Lake State Park. And the Booker T. Washington National Monument (Hardy, Virginia) is about five miles from Hales Ford Bridge and Bridgewater Plaza, two of the best known spots on the lake. Hales Ford Bridge is the primary crossing point on the 40-mile-long lake, dividing Bedford and Franklin counties. Bridgewater Plaza includes the Visitor Center and more than a dozen retail stores and restaurants.

A: No. SML borders three Virginia counties – Franklin County, Bedford County, and Pittsylvania County. Those counties together govern the lake and tax property owners on the lakefront and nearby. There are several postal designations around the waterfront, sometimes mistakenly referred to as “towns” – Hardy 24101, Huddleston 24104, Moneta 24121, Penhook 24137, Union Hall 24176, and Wirtz 24184. Real estate is listed according to the postal designations (Moneta, etc.) rather than Smith Muntain Lake. The USPS allows residents to use only the town name “Smith Mountain Lake,” so long as the correct zip code is also included (24121, etc.)

A: Probably not. All reservoirs go through a constant process of sedimentation, in which soil erodes into the lake from upstream, and from its banks. SML averages 55 feet in depth, deeper than most U.S. reservoirs, and is likely to survive for hundreds of years before filling in. Regulations permit a limited amount of expensive dredging by property owners to keep shallow areas passable by boats, but the results are temporary. Much of the shoreline is protected by “rip rap” to reduce erosion.

Smith Mountain Lake, Virginia: A year-round beauty

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