Glistening like the crown jewel of recreation in the New River Valley, Claytor Lake called to me on a sunny spring Sunday in late April. What would NRV residents do without the beautiful lake and the state park that gives each of us access to its water and woods?
I wasn’t the only one.
There were sunbathers, swimmers, boaters and hikers. There were dog walkers and people meeting up for picnics and field games. There were campers already occupying two of the park’s four campgrounds and others renting the park’s 2-, 3- and 6-bedroom year-round cabins. One of four yurts installed last year and renting from April to October is accessible to handicapped occupants. By summer, said Ryan Stubblebine (one of two chief rangers at the park), two more campgrounds would be open.
Johnny Garrett had Claytor Lake Water Sports open and there were college students taking out his 18’ pontoon boat, plus another pontoon group waiting to take off. Garrett offers ski boats, pontoons, fishing boats, jet skis, canoes and single kayaks. He’s been renting water-craft at the park since 2003 and, after taking a welding course at New River Community College, has constructed three of his pontoons.
“I wanted to be in the state park,” he said. He predicted he would be busiest from late June through August. This year Garrett has added two glistening “hydrobikes” to his rental fleet, and they are a bargain at $10 per day.
Boaters who rent a slip at the park were heading out for a jaunt on the mostly quiet, glistening lake.
Evan Danner of Dublin was keeping shop for Mountain 2 Island Paddle Board Company. In the summer paddle boards and double kayaks are popular ways for folks to get on the water. Paddle-boards and accessories are for sale there, too.
Bob Suddarth of Pulaski was at the park with his boat and his grandson, Gavin Reece. “Poppy,” as his grandson calls him, had taken the six-year-old out fishing three times in the span of four April days. They said they planned to eat the yellow perch and crappy they had caught.
Cortney Cunningham of Key West, Fla. was there with a boatload of Virginia Tech seniors. “We’ve been to the New River before, but this is our first time at the lake,” she said.
Connor Greenwood of Phoenixville, Pa., proudly called himself captain of the pontoon his friends rented from Claytor Lake Water Sports.
Along the park’s shoreline, people were tossing their lines into the water with a flick of the rod and a wish. Bailey Hurt and dad James Hurt of Christiansburg were doing catch-and-release, but Bailey said she might be tempted to keep a catfish if they got lucky enough to get one.
It was late April. The dogwoods were blooming, and except for some brave sun bathers and a few waders, it was hard to imagine the festive clamor that summer would bring to the park’s beach.
Ranger Stubblebine said he was expecting Saturday, June 8, to be the park’s single busiest day, as that is the date of the annual festival. He said between 13,000 and 14,000 people visit the park on festival day. Admission goes up from $7 entry fee to $10, but a carload of folks can get into the festivities for only $5 if they bring five cans of food to donate to local food banks.
If you pine for solitude, take to one of the parks’ more than eight miles of trails, none of which is classified as difficult. Nature lovers can tap into the park’s website (www.dcr.virginia.gov/state-parks/claytor-lake) to learn of other special activities, including campfires, star gazing and wildflower walks, to name only a few.