Friday, July 03, 2009

Heard it through the lakevine?

We're setting the records straight on lake rumors.


TRUE OR FALSE? The original bridge that spanned the Roanoke River is submerged some 60 feet under the current Hales Ford Bridge.

FALSE. Todd Burns of Appalachian Power Corporate Communications said the utility recently completed a bathymetry mapping of the lake as part of its relicensing process. And there's no bridge underwater.

TRUE OR FALSE? A catfish roughly the size of a Volkswagon lives near the dam.

UNKNOWN, BUT LIKELY FALSE. Dan Wilson, fisheries biologist with Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, said he's heard this fishy tale in every state he's worked "from just about every lake that has a big dam." The nationwide repetition makes it a certifiable urban legend. The state record for largest catfish was set on May 20 when Tim Wilson reeled in a 102-pound, 4-ounce blue catfish from the James River. According to National Geographic, the largest catfish in the world, the giant Mekong catfish, is an endangered species native to Southeast Asia. The top record weight is 646 pounds. Think grizzly-bear-big, not Volkswagon-big.

TRUE OR FALSE? An entire town, including houses, stores and a little church, was submerged near Vista Pointe when the lake was created.

FALSE. John Shepelwich, a spokesman for Appalachian Power, said the utility disassembled all structures within the project boundary that had the potential of floating to the surface when the lake was filled. Because most homes, stores and churches at the time were made of wood, which can break apart and float, they were taken down and relocated or disposed of. The company did, however, leave many trees with the tops lopped off which provide habitats for fish.

TRUE OR FALSE? The water on the surface and the floor of the lake switches places during the year.

TRUE. Known as "turning over," this is a natural phenomenon that happens in lakes every spring and fall, said Greg Anderson, water-monitoring manager for Virginia Department of Environmental Quality. The turnover is caused by water density. When surface water cools in the fall or warms in the spring, it becomes more dense (heavier) and sinks to the bottom, forcing the less dense floor water to the surface.


TRUE OR FALSE? Sissy Spacek used to live at the lake.

TRUE. Spacek owned a home at The Water's Edge in Penhook during the 1990s, according to Christopher Finley, director of marketing and communications for The Willard Companies. Spacek currently lives near Charlottesville.

TRUE OR FALSE? Michael Jordan once golfed at the lake.

TRUE. "Michael Jordan did indeed play at The Water's Edge," said Finley. "He visited the area and played the course over a span of three days back in August 2005." Despite another rumor claiming Jordan came with fellow basketball legend Shaquille O'Neal, Finley said Jordan golfed with his entourage. Shaq was not involved.

TRUE OR FALSE? New York Times best-selling author David Baldacci lives at the lake.

TRUE. Baldacci, himself, confirmed this rumor last year during an interview. He has owned a home on the Bedford County side of the lake since 2001. "We routinely come down and spend the bulk of the summer there," said Baldacci. "We come down throughout the year for long weekends." Baldacci and his family sometimes attend Resurrection Catholic Church and frequent lake-area restaurants. During the rest of the year, they live in Reston.

TRUE OR FALSE? Tom Cruise bought a $2.75 million property on Tranquility Road in Moneta in 2005 during a break from filming scenes for "War of the Worlds" in Lexington.

FALSE. The house in question previously was owned by Phyllis Johnson, Realtor with Re/Max Lakefront Realty. "The Roanoke Times called me and said they'd heard Tom Cruise bought it," Johnson said of the 15-acre waterfront property. "I said, if he did, that's not the last name on the contract." According to county real estate reports, the property is owned by Steven and Patricia Cunningham. Shortly after they purchased the house, Johnson said the couple bought a boat and named it Top Gun, which is the name of one of Cruise's early films. Thus, she said, the rumor has lived on.

TRUE OR FALSE? Dale Earnhardt Jr. owns a home at Sanctuary Bay in Penhook.

FALSE. Erik Plyler, developer of Sanctuary Bay, said only one house has been built at the Penhook development in Pittsylvania County, although 24 lots have been sold. The house is owned by Clay Campbell, president of Martinsville Speedway, and wife Kim. The couple bought two lots about four years ago to build their home. Plyler said he thinks the Nascar connection may be how the rumor about Earnhardt got started. Campbell said he's had boaters cruise past the dock and ask, "Is that Junior's house?"


TRUE OR FALSE? Goat Island was named for a herd of goats that was found stranded on the island after the lake was filled.

FALSE ON TWO COUNTS. It's best known as Christmas Tree Island (albeit, unofficially), but there was a time when some people called it Goat Island, said Dottie Sutherland, who owns the island. Her late husband George bought the island in 1967 and planted dozens of pine tree seedlings, which soon grew to resemble Christmas trees. But there was a lot of brush and undergrowth on the island, so a local Boy Scout troop did some community service work to help clean up. The troop leader eventually brought two goats to the island, a male and female, to assist with the cleanup. "The female was pregnant and we didn't know it," said Sutherland. So soon there were three goats on the island and passersby began calling it Goat Island. "They [the goats] were removed after they had done their job cleaning up the island for us," said Sutherland. She reminds boaters that the island is private and trespassers will be prosecuted.

TRUE OR FALSE? The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries released mountain lions in the Blue Ridge Mountains and they've found their way to the lake.

FALSE. Dan Lovelace, wildlife biologist for VDGIF, said the department has not released any mountain lions in Virginia. And to date, there have been no confirmed sightings. "We get a lot of calls from people who say they see them or thought they see them," he said. "We haven't had any conclusive evidence from pictures or tracks." After reports came in within the last 10 years of mountain lions spotted near the dam, VDGIF set up cameras to try to catch the big cat on camera, said Lovelace. Instead, they got snapshots of bobcats, bears and foxes. If there really is a mountain lion prowling the shoreline, Lovelace said it was likely someone's pet (which requires a permit) or it escaped from an exhibit. Lovelace said he'd like to see hard evidence of lakeside cougars if someone has it. "Tell people to keep their cameras handy and if they get a good picture, send it to us," said Lovelace. Until concrete evidence comes through, VDGIF has thrown the mountain lion story in the rumor pile. But if there are any out there, VDGIF had nothing to do with it.

TRUE OR FALSE? The largest moonshine distillery ever found in Virginia was found at Smith Mountain Lake.

TRUE. In a combined stakeout involving the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, Danville police and Pittsylvania County sheriffs, a 28,800-gallon distillery was busted in January 1993. The distillery was located on a Penhook property in Pittsylvania County near the Franklin County line. "There's no question; the 1993 still was the largest bust in Virginia ABC history," said Kathleen Shaw, a public affairs representative for the Virginia ABC. She said each of the 36 800-gallon pots was capable of producing 100 gallons in a single run. Perhaps Franklin County should relinquish its title of "Moonshine Capital of the World" to its neighbor.