Smith Mountain Lake:, Va. Tucked away in the woods
BY SHANNON ROXBOROUGH
Smith Mountain Lake, about 27 miles southeast of Roanoke, Va., is far removed — in distance and sensibility — from the throb of cities and suburbs. The 20,600-acre man-made reservoir with 500 miles of coastline still evokes a sense of refuge much as it did when it was created in 1966 by the damming of the Roanoke River and the Blackwater River.
It isn’t that Smith Mountain Lake is the land that time forgot. What was once a little-known retreat in a rural swath dotted with tobacco farms and logging camps has been intruded on by modern life. Today, the lake is a tourist and weekender hot spot where the arrival of summer brings with it the pouring in of city-weary visitors from throughout the region.
Tucked into a broad, wooded valley of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the lake has long been a destination for mid-Atlantic residents seeking to escape the grind. But in recent years it has been attracting second-home buyers from the Northeast who are snubbing traditional escapes like the Shore and Florida in favor of a place that offers rolling alpine meadows and picturesque wilderness.
It’s where for the last two years North Jersey residents Adam and Clarissa Dawson, home maintenance business owners approaching their 60s, have enjoyed rich weekend and vacation time, filled with children, grandchildren and friends, and almost non-stop outdoor activity.
The semi-retired couple had purchased a fractional ownership condo in a luxury oceanfront golf community in South Florida five years ago and were happy vacationing there. That was, until a corporate transfer sent their daughter and young grandchildren to Virginia. “We’re pretty typical modern grandparents who are very attached to our grandkids and smother them with affection,” said Adam Dawson. “Naturally, we want to be as close to them as possible.”
So, having grown accustomed to spending vacations close to family, they sold their deeded interest in the club for $625,000 and bought a $519,000, four-bedroom house with views of Smith Mountain Lake, within reasonable driving distance of their daughter’s apartment.
The lake is typically used as a seasonal escape — from springtime through early fall — but the Dawsons spend time there year-round, golfing and participating in multigenerational outings and outdoor recreational activities during warm weather and hosting family gatherings and private social events from late fall through the winter.
Although economic and credit woes have slowed development in the lake region in recent years, over the past decade new building has been on the upswing and increasing numbers of baby boomers have discovered the lake as a vacation and potential future retirement destination.
Many come from Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and the Washington area. However, more are arriving from Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York.
“Of course, there are people of all ages here, but we’ve definitely noticed a lot more of the 55-plus crowd exploring the area and we understand why,” said Dawson. “As much as we used to think that we’d be retiring to someplace in the Sun Belt, we’re really starting to lean toward permanently settling here. If we do go that direction, we’ll probably sell again and get something right on the water.
“That would be really nice!”
An out-of-the-way south-central Virginia haven with both lake and mountain appeal. Boating, fishing, swimming and golfing. Spending quiet time and private socializing at home. Wildlife-watching, hiking and primitive camping at Smith Mountain Lake State Park. A strong vacation rental market to offset mortgage costs.
Though Moneta and other area towns have pockets of commerce, there’s relatively little in the way of restaurants and ready-made fun. Larger-scale shopping and organized cultural pursuits require a trip to Roanoke or Lynchburg.
While there are manufactured homes in the area starting in the $100,000 range and smaller cottages farther from the lake starting in the high $200,000s, many single-family properties go for at least $500,000 and quickly rise to low seven figures, depending on size and proximity to the water. Prime waterfront estates can go for as much as $4 million.
Beautiful, warm summers, colorful, brisk falls, cold winters with very little snowfall and lush springs.
Delta, United and US Airways provide service to Roanoke, with advance-purchase, round-trip flights (with stopovers) starting at about $410. The drive from Roanoke Regional Airport takes about 45 minutes.
Where to stay
Westlake Waterfront Inn ($90-$160; 540-721-3307; westlake-waterfront-inn.com) has 26 clean, comfortable rooms, all of which provide lake views.
The Booker T. Washington National Monument, the birthplace of the slave-turned-educator, commemorates his life and accomplishments through exhibits, audiovisual and park ranger programs, a bookstore and periodic related special events.
For more information
The official website of the Smith Mountain Lake Chamber of Commerce (visitsmithmountainlake.com) has information about the lake area and offers a free visitor and newcomer guide.