Kayaking Philpott Marina & Philpott Dam

I actually do work for a living. I technically qualify to join Henry County’s 50+ Club (I’m over 50) but I do have to ask off from work to attend their weekday events. But it has been SO worth it.

Philpott Marina

This month’s kayak was at Philpott Marina. This launch spot is at the southern end of the lake and it is a very short trip over to see the dam.

Philpott Dam

There is a big sign on the dam that says to stay 500 feet back. I have a camera with a really good zoom.

Note the windows in the dam

One of the other kayakers pointed out that there are windows in the dam facing the lake. The bottom of the windows is just a little above the spillway. It must have been an awe-inspiring sight to look out those windows the one and only time that the lake was high enough to go over the spillway.

The River Side of the Dam

When you are over by the dam, if you turn and look north up the lake, you can just barely make out the Blue Ridge Mountains peeking up on the far horizon. Philpott Lake covers 2900 acres and it is long and narrow(ish). It has 100 miles of shoreline.

Bowen Falls is not too far away from Philpott Marina but I found that out too late to try to go take a look. It’s nice to leave something for next time though. We spent our afternoon kayaking up one of the many little spines that branch away from the main channel of the lake.

Exploring

The water is clear by Texas standards but I know that isn’t saying much. It isn’t crystal clear like I’ve seen in maybe Minnesota or Maine, but it is definitely not murky.

Water Clarity by the Launch

The shoreline is a little low. One of the county employees told me that the lake is about three feet down right now. You can see erosion along the shore line and the trees tip over and fall in if they lose enough soil.

Submerged Trees Along the Shoreline

This is great for fishing and two of the county’s chaperones brought out their fishing boat to drop a line in while keeping an eye on us. They were pros and very good about not creating a wake. Our group did get a little spread out as the afternoon went on and it was nice to know that they could respond to any issues quickly.

Our Fishing Boat Escort

It was a beautiful day. We had a small group because there was a competing blood drive in the county and many of our kayaking ladies had volunteered to help with that.

Puttering Around on Philpott Lake

Philpott Lake is a US Army Corps of Engineers lake and there is no development on it. In fact, the only marina on the lake where you can permanently moor a boat or buy gasoline on the water is Philpott Marina.

Philpott Marina

Philpott has requested to expand its slip rentals but the Corps has refused based on their location on the lake. There had been another marina up at Twin Ridge but it burned in 2000. That means that all boat traffic on Philpott Lake, with the exception of the handful of boats moored here, has to be trailered in and launched.

Boat Launch at Philpott Marina

That doesn’t keep the lake from getting busy though. Besides Twin Ridge, I have yet to see other launches but the launch at Philpott Marina is very nice. It has the two accesses separated by a narrow dock. It also has a lot of parking for trailers. I started to take a picture but it’s a parking lot. Trust me. There is a lot of parking.

There are also campgrounds and a trail off by the side of the marina that leads to another parking lot and a fishing spot.

Trail to Fishing Spot

As fishing spots go, it would be good for the able-bodied fisherman. It’s a bit of a scramble to get down to the shoreline.

The Fishing Spot

Philpott Marina is in a cluster of accesses. Right next to the marina is the observation deck where so many photos are taken of Philpott Lake. It is especially beautiful in the fall but I went there one fall day when it rained and it was incredible.

You can also get to the other side of the dam with another access. This is where you find the first access to Smith River for kayaks.

Philpott Dam Access Sign

Class 1 to 3 rapids. I’m comfortable with class 1, a little nervous about class 2, and there’s no way I’m going on class 3 without a guide who’s done it before. The moving water is beautiful though.

There is plenty of parking and a well marked access.

Trail Head

There is a gate across the access that prevents a vehicle from getting down there. Since the strength of the river depends on how much water is let out from the dam, you need to call ahead before just setting out. I don’t know if the gate is an indication of whether or not it is okay to put in or if they just don’t want ordinary folks trying to back down the access.

Philpott Dam Access

That would be completely understandable though, since the access is narrow and a little rough.

The Access

At the bottom of the access, you are looking up at the dam and hearing the water being released. It is a little awe-inspiring.

I will leave you with this last photo that completely took me by surprise. There is a hiking trail that juts off from the kayak access and continues on along the shore of the river. The cool water being released by the dam was reacting with the warmer water in the river and a mist was rising up off of the surface. It was absolutely gorgeous.

Mist Rising Up Off of the River

I hope that this is something that always happens and I can get back and take some incredible shots of that.

#thereissomuchtodohere

Kayak Quest Completed? Smith River Festival

It took me forty-five minutes to tie my new-to-me kayak to my car the morning of the Smith River Festival. But I did it. I got it attached to my car, got myself to the festival, had a WONDERFUL day, and got myself home in one piece.

The Smith River Festival is an annual festival here, held at the Smith River Sports Complex. It runs 10 to 4 and is packed with activities. There’s the Helgramite 5K Mud Run, a river race, free tubes provided for tubing, free shuttles for tubes and kayaks, a demo pool for trying out different kinds of kayaks or SUPs, a petting zoo, a yoga class, a beer garden, live music, and activities for kids to include bikes to ride, a climbing tower, and a bounce house. And then there’s a rubber duck race that I keep missing.

Parking Around 9:30 AM

Timing is everything with the Smith River Festival. If you have a kayak, you can drive down to the river to drop it off and then park. If you are early enough, you can park close by. Otherwise you end up parking further and further away. By late morning, you have to park over by the soccer fields and take a shuttle to the festival.

Live Music Pavilion (left) Beer Garden (right)

I am always early. I arrived around 9:30, dropped off my kayak, and was able to park in the first row away from the demo pool . The down side to being early is that the festival itself – the tents, the music, even the bounce house – were still being set up.

Snow Cones, Climbing Tower, Bounce House Inflated, Chain of Fools Bicycle Tent Manned

I puttered around awhile and took some photos. It’s kind of nice to see a festival start taking shape.

Bikes to Ride

There were so many activities. Tons. They really excelled at providing things to do.

One thing this is not is an artisan fare. There were military recruiters, some political tents, various organizations that wanted to get the word out about programs they had. There were a few individuals selling things that they had made, but not many. It’s not really that kind of festival. I was pleased to see our local bike shop, Chain of Fools, in attendance. As the weather cools off, I’ll stop by there for a post of its own.

Food Court

There was one tent that really stood out though. That was largely because they would take a huge monitor lizard (wearing a cowboy hat) out for a walk or they would wrangle a rather large reticulating python.

Officer Clark Wrangling a Reticulating Python

Animal Control Officer Clark has been “in the news” (on Facebook) for rescuing a stray cat and fostering it for the Martinsville Henry County SPCA until a home can be found. Animals seem to really like him and this python was no exception. Every time they set it down, it sought him out.

Cooling Off the Reticulating Python

They dipped the python in water to keep it cool. In the picture above, you can see that it still was making its way to Officer Clark. I think that they did a good job with the snakes. They were very careful about controlling their temperatures. In the picture below, they were taking the temperature of a jungle python.

This Jungle Python is Getting a Temperature Check

But the real focus of Smith River Festival is the river. And about all the ways that you can enjoy the river. The Dan River Basin Association had a fantastic demo pool set up for trying different types of kayaks and paddle boards.

Brian Williams at the Demo Pool

I finally got to try a sit-on-top kayak. Wouldn’t you know that it was a Liquidlogic. Dare I say that I’m in love again? The Liquidlogic Coupe XP runs $869 on their website right now. This is, at least, still less expensive than the others I’ve fallen in love with so far. However, the website says that it’s on backorder now.

One of the Demo Kayaks: A Liquidlogic Coupe

The Helgramite Mud Run started at 11. I was anxious to get into the water but I really wanted to see the Mud Run get underway.

The Line-up for the Helgramite Mud Run

I got a good vantage point next to the starting line. All the runners shoes looked beautiful. Mine, I wear once and they look like I’ve been using them as yard shoes. They assured me that, no, they were old shoes. One racer even had his duct-taped to his feet.

A Clever Runner in the Helgramite Mud Run

The first pit is right at the start and it was fun to watch all those people lunge through the pit. I took over a dozen pictures (easily) and the rest are on the blog’s Facebook page.

The First Mud Pit in the 2021 Helgramite Mud Run

Then it was time for what I had come for. I had a choice to go down a stretch that I had done before or go down a part that was new to me. The shuttle was free and would pick me up at the next launch down or even the one after that, if I wanted. I did want to. But, even at 11, there weren’t that many people lining up for a shuttle or on the water and I was worried about doing something new on water I didn’t know – by myself. It would probably be okay but I’m not a “probably” kind of person when it comes to drowning.

I chose the South Martinsville back to the Complex stretch. I thought I “knew” it.

That’s Rives Road Crossing the River Ahead

I never regret time on the water and I was a fool to think that I knew this stretch. I had been down this run last year, when the water was so high that it was close to being too high for kayakers of my skill level to ride. I’m not going to see any rapids to speak of on this, I thought.

Right After Rives Road

I ate my words quickly. There were rapids right after Rives Road. I watched two kayakers in front of me. The first went through on the left and motioned to the second, who blew off the instructions and went through the middle.

I approached. Tacked for the left. Got right up on it and frantically paddled out of it. I went through the middle and realized that I had underestimated this stretch. I forgot that the water had been very low until just recently. There were actually fewer rapids when the water was higher.

It doesn’t look that bad now, does it?

The rapids made the trip all the more interesting and enjoyable. I am getting braver with my camera too. Once through the rapids, several times I pulled back up to the rocks to get some close ups of the water rushing through. Only once did my camera get doused. But it survived.

Note the Tuber Approaching the Rapids

Unlike when I was on the river before, I passed by a lot of people. Some in tubes. Some in kayaks. Some forming chains four, five, or six kayaks across, just drifting with the current and enjoying their company.

I just love this shot

There’s a spot not far from the complex where you can see the Dick & Willie Passage Rail Trail following along the river. By this time, I was chatting with another couple of kayakers and one told me that they actually had to blast some rock here to make the path through.

One of the Few Places Where You Can See the Dick & Willie Trail from the River

And then, before I knew it, I was back at the complex. I could have kept going and I probably should have since there were so many people on the water now. But it had finally dawned on me that I was going to have to repeat my feat of getting the kayak back on top of the car before I could get home. It was now 2, the festival ended at 4, and I hadn’t had a chance to have a beer in the beer garden and relax.

The Finish Line

In retrospect, I do wish that I had continued. For one thing, maybe I wouldn’t have forgotten about the rubber duck race.

I guess that’s what next year is for.

🙂

Another Hidden Gem: Laurel Ridge Trail and Twin Ridge Park

On the heels of having made it out to Hamlet Vineyards for the first time, I have found another local attraction hiding in plain sight. I’ve been here since 2014 and I had never heard anything about how pretty Twin Ridge Park is on Philpott Lake or seen any pictures of the amenities there.

In fact, prior to this, the only true access point for Philpott Lake that I had been to was the Philpott Marina (The yellow 1 in the shot below, lower right).

Imagine a trail going around this

Today I want to share some photos from a recent hike with the Homestead Hikers. Homestead Hikers is a hiking club (dues are $10 a year) connected with Reynolds Homestead, a historic property and extension of Virginia Tech. This extension is host to the College for Older Adults and they have some AMAZING programs. Honestly (and I am not kidding) I was looking forward to turning 50 because of the programs for seniors here. But I digress. Again.

Trail Head Sign

Twin Ridge Park is actually in Franklin County, Henry County’s neighbor. The trail we were hitting today was the Laurel Ridge Trail heading to Salthouse Branch. We would do a 3-mile round trip out-and-back hike.

There is parking along the side of the road at the trail head. A small stretch has stone put down for traction while the rest is mown grass. There’s room for maybe 8 to 10 cars parked perpendicular to the road. The boat launch is about a half a mile down the road so there is additional parking there but add a mile onto your hike if you park there.

The trail head sign says that this is a 2.5 mile long trail of moderate difficulty (1 hour to complete one way) and that it is open to hikers, bicyclists, and hunters. It describes the trail this way:

“Laurel Ridge Trail traverses through beautiful forested mountains, with stretches that hug the Philpott Lake shoreline, connecting Salthouse Branch Park and Twin Ridge Park. The trail is marked by trees with blue markings.”

A woodland path

Don’t worry about the “forested mountains” part. If that is true, it is in only the most technical sense. This is a nice woodland walk with only a slight decline as you progress along the path. It wouldn’t have been noticeable at all except that we did notice the slight incline when we reversed for our return.

The blue markings are critical. This is a beautiful path that is very visible most of the time but there are times when the trail forks and you need to know which way to go.

A fork in the trail

There were some things we all enjoyed looking at along the path. This tree had grown up right next to the path and then fell away from it, leaving a canopy of roots for an opportunistic woodland vine to climb.

A fallen tree

While this trail is going from point A to point B along the lake, the lake’s shoreline narrows until it becomes little more than a creek. You have to go a distance away from the body of the lake before you can get to a crossing. At one point, it is no more than a foot or two wide and it winds back and forth like a snake.

There, before we crossed, we found a foundation or basement for a structure now long gone. No one knows what its history is.

A foundation for a farm or a mill?

You do eventually have to cross the water but, by the time that you do, it’s not a significant crossing. At least, this is what it looked like when we did it.

The water crossing

We saw a turtle. It was right on the trail but it blended in so well that it very nearly got stepped on.

Can you see the turtle?

Being woodland, much of the trail looks alike and it was challenging to get good photos. I would see something I considered beautiful, snap a shot, and then, once I got home, not be able to make out what in particular I was seeing. I think that it is worth continuing to try.

It really is a beautiful trail

We were all pleased with our hike. Afterwards, some of our group went on down to the boat launch area to investigate and swim.

Twin Ridge Boat Launch

This is Philpott Lake, standing on the Twin Ridge Ramp. In the photo below, I’ve labeled the horizon (loosely) with the points of interest. That whole mass on the right is Goose Point Campground. Turkey Island is the only island on Philpott Lake that allows camping. There is an island behind it that does not have a name. Deer Island is somewhere over towards the shore between Salthouse Branch and Turkey Island.

Points of interest standing on Twin Ridge Park boat ramp

There is a placard that gives you this information, a little more accurately. I, honestly, had not paid any attention to the new Philpott Lake Blueway Water Trail went I first heard of it. Every time I saw a photo of Philpott Lake, it was from the same vantage point. I thought that that must be all there was. I was incredibly wrong. There so much more to see. I could take a whole season to see all of the points of interest, maybe more.

The informational placard at Twin Ridge Park

The placard also suggests the following kayaking trips:

Deer Island Kayak Trip – 4 miles round trip – From the ramp, paddle southeast across the mouth of the cove and continue along this shoreline. Deer Island is the landmass on your right as you round the point. The scenic and secluded shores of the largest island on the lake it is only accessed by boat, and the only island on Philpott used for camping. Continue around Deer Island between Turkey Island and the western side of Deer Island.

Rabbit Island – 3.5 miles round trip – The open water of the lake must be crossed to reach the secluded shores of Rabbit Island. It is recommended this trip not be attempted by paddle craft during high wind or heavy motorized boat traffic conditions. Head west from Twin Ridge to make the scenic round trip to Rabbit Island. A compass is always recommended when negotiating large open water. No camping is allowed on Rabbit Island.

Pavilion at Twin Ridge Park

The park itself is beautiful. The pavilion is big, well maintained, and clean. The person emptying the trash bin while I was there ducked out of the shot above.

There is a dedicated swimming area. River shoes might be a good idea for the rocky terrain.

The swimming area at Twin Creek Park

They also have concerts in the park designed for an audience of boaters, kayakers, and paddle boarders. One of our cohort was local to this particular area and he said that it is a very safe area and that the concert series have been well managed.

Boat dock at Twin Ridge Park

There is a lot here. I didn’t expect so many photos from a short hike but, there you are. The dappled light of the path was too challenging for me to come away with any truly good shots but that only means that I need to try again. The launch photos have not been tinkered with for saturation. It is just, honest to God, is that pretty.