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Friday, July 17, 2009

ANCHORED IN THE PAST

The Pittsylvania part of the lake

The Pittsylvania County end of the lake is off a road well-traveled, but most motorists take Smith Mountain Road on the south side of the lake to The Water's Edge, a golf resort/subdivision with some of the lake's priciest real estate. But travel down the road a bit farther and you'll venture upon a small community with an ambience all its own.

"This area has its own personality, its own characteristics," said Oscar Robertson, who has owned a waterfront home since 2005 in the little slice of Penhook inside Pittsylvania.

Most of Penhook lies in Franklin County. The adjacent Pittsylvania portion is about 30 minutes northeast of Gretna and an hour north of Danville.

"It's quiet, it's peaceful, it's still a rural atmosphere," said Robertson. "Westlake is more citylike and this is more townlike."

John Lindsey, who lives just a few streets down from Robertson, estimated that there are 5,000 people living in households in the vicinity of the lake in Pittsylvania County. Lindsey serves as Pittsylvania County's alternate representative on the Tri-County Lake Administrative Commission, a group comprised of members from the three counties surrounding the lake.

The TLAC board has three representatives from both Bedford and Franklin counties: the county administrator, a supervisor and a citizen. Pittsylvania County, however, only has two acting members: the administrator and supervisor.

Pam Dinkle, TLAC's lake management and project coordinator, said the representation was determined years ago and was based on geography. Bedford and Franklin each has about 45 percent of the lake's shoreline within its boundaries. Pittsylvania County has roughly 10 percent; most of that land is Smith Mountain.

Lindsey, who serves as the alternate when one of the county's two representatives is unable to attend, said he thinks the division is fair. County Administrator Dan Sleeper who lives on the Southern end of the county, agreed.

"We only have 10 percent of the shoreline," he said. "What we have the most of is Leesville [Lake]".

That's not to say that Pittsylvania residents don't feel connected to Smith Mountain Lake, said Sleeper. But the county, the largest in Virginia, also has full or partial ownership of several other waterways, including the Staunton River and Cherrystone Lake.

The people who live close to the water in Pittsylvania County, like those in Bedford and Franklin, still consider themselves SML residents. The difference, they said, is a smaller community, deeper water and more majestic mountain views. And that, according to some, is one of the things they like best about Pittsylvania.

"It's where the country begins," said Lindsey. "Bedford and Franklin County are going to be all built up and to get to the country, you'll have to come to Pittsylvania County."

Following are profiles of some of the people and places on or near the lake in Pittsylvania County that give it its flavor.

Arrowhead Campground

Herbert White didn't mean to buy a big parcel of land in Pittsylvania County.

White's brother was supposed to meet him at the Penhook auction, but the brother never showed. And, well, White's car was blocked in so he figured he might as well make a bid.

He bid low, but no one bid higher. And then White became the owner of more than 80 acres of land he never meant to own.

"He rented it out to people to farm tobacco on it," said Angela Wylmoth, White's granddaughter.

White also planted apple orchards and sold apples and cider on the farm, said Glenn Ulman, Wylmoth's boyfriend.

"When the lake came in, Mr. White lost 40 acres," said Ulman. "His apple orchards went underwater. His tobacco fields went underwater."

But with all White lost, he gained more than a mile of shoreline. The value of that shoreline, however, was unknown. Some years later, a friend asked to camp on the remaining 42 acres. White conceded. And the seeds that would grow to become Arrowhead Campground were planted.

Today, Wylmoth is the proprietor of her late grandfather's property. It is home to 128 privately owned trailers of various years, makes and models.

Despite the high number of campers, the proximity of the trailers has created a close-knit community where families vacation year-round.

"It's a good place to live, a good place to come up on weekends," said Lily Adkins. "I've been here 28 years. It's a wonderful place."

Adkins is the campground's only full-time resident. The remaining families are restricted to 120 days per year, designated by the county based on the size of the campground's septic system, said Ulman.

During the summer, families gather on their porches or at the campground pavilion to listen to Dr. Kendall Smith, pastor of Sandy Level Baptist Church, who holds Sunday morning services at a small dock on the water for boaters.

For a few years, the boaters and campers were joined for services by Tripod, a three-legged dog that lived on the campground, but has since died.

"Once the music would start playing, that dog would hobble over to the service," said Ulman. "People would say, 'If he can go to church, I can.'"

Four empty lots currently are available for lease, with annual rates starting at $1,500.

Arrowhead Campground is located at 5625 Smith Mountain Road in Penhook. 719-1102.

Cool Branch Bar & Grill

Walking into this Penhook restaurant is like walking onto the set of "Cheers."

"We have our regulars in here every day," said Mary Sports, a cook and waitress at Cool Branch. "Everybody pretty much knows everybody."

Diners wander to talk with one another over burgers, sandwiches, pizzas and dinner plates. By the end of the night, newcomers usually know everybody in the place, said Sports.

"It's a good atmosphere," said Oscar Robertson of Penhook. "You get to associate with good people."

On Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, Cool Branch, owned by Russell Tipton, is host to live or karaoke music. Sports said several people take the stage to belt out their favorite hits. Others get up to boogie.

In addition to a fun, friendly atmosphere, Sports said the restaurant serves good, affordable food. Sports knows it's good because she makes it and she's picky about what she lets out of the kitchen.

"I'm not going to feed it to you if I won't eat it," said Sports.

Hours before the restaurant opens, Sports is in the kitchen making homemade cole slaw and macaroni salad.

"It's good, fresh food," she said. "It's not frozen food."

And it's clean, too.

"The health department lady eats here," said Sports. "And that ... is awesome."

Cool Branch Bar & Grill is located at 3585 Smith Mountain Road in Penhook. (434) 927-4300 or (434) 927-4301.S

Smith Mountain Farm & Stables

This horse-riding business is geared almost like driver's education classes. Just as novice drivers learn the ropes before purchasing their own cars, green equestrians can learn the ropes at Smith Mountain Farm & Stables' horse camp before investing in their own horses.

"We're mainly geared toward trail riding, learning how to ride a horse comfortably and safely," said Carol Miller who owns the farm with husband Steve. "It's very hands-on."

In addition to learning how to ride, the Millers teach students how to care for the horses. Classes and trail rides run from 112 hours to 2 hours.

The Millers have been teaching individuals, families and groups at their farm in Sandy Level for about three years. Previously, the couple ran the same business in Lovettsville, but they were looking for a place with less hustle and bustle to relocate.

After discovering the lake, the Millers looked for land where they could establish their farm.

"We really couldn't find what we wanted," said Miller.

Then they discovered the Pittsylvania County side and found it to be a perfect fit, with long mountain views and with their home and farm only five minutes from the water.

"We like the remoteness," said Miller. "And we like being an opportunity for people to come down and visit this part of the lake. We like showing people Pittsylvania County."

Smith Mountain Farm & Stables is located at 7661 Grassland Drive in Sandy Level. (434) 927-5199. www.smithmountainstables.com

Lumpkin's Marina

Adolphus and Juanita Lumpkin were tobacco farmers in Pittsylvania and Bedford counties long before the lake was created. After the valley was flooded, they decided a career change was pantamount.

"They took part of our land and flooded it," said Juanita Lumpkin, whose husband died in 2005. "We lost about 125 acres. We lost one complete farm over in Bedford County ... We didn't like it."

Couple that with new tobacco regulations that made selling the crop more difficult and the Lumpkins quit raising tobacco and opened Lumpkin's Marina in 1968.

One of the oldest marinas at the lake, Lumpkin said it's an old-timey, family friendly business. She and her family operate the marina, which offers gasoline, food and a boat launch, and the adjoining Lumpkin's Recreational Park, a mobile home park.

Lumpkin's Marina is located at 19 Lumpkins Drive in Penhook or by water near B1. (434) 927-5150.

LAURIE EDWARDS | Laker Weekly 721.4675 (ext. 406)

Next: What the future looks like for the Pittsylvania County part of the lake

There's something strange, yet familiar, about driving down Smith Mountain Road in Pittsylvania County. Strange to see the absence of large houses, multi-family residential developments and retail businesses.

But it's their absence that makes the pastoral views, the trailer parks and campgrounds and the passersby who wave to passing motorists all seem right in place.

Then it clicks: This is what the lake must have been like 40 years ago before the resort possibilities of the lake were fully realized -- when lake life was simple and nearby farmers stored their boats in old tobacco barns.

Driving down Smith Mountain Road is like driving back in time. And, like a bowl of hot soup on a bitter winter day, it's soothing.