By Scott Robertson
As you may have heard, Boone Lake will not reach full pool this summer. And while this will have a deleterious effect on several populations (lakeside property owners looking to sell, boat owners whose craft are currently landlocked, marina owners), it also creates opportunities for the rest of us to explore other entertainment options in the region.
South Holston and Watauga Lakes are both beautiful. In fact, for sheer unspoiled nature, Watauga Lake is one of my favorite boating venues. I have enjoyed sailing, skiing, fishing and hunting on that lake for years. In fact, during the Watauga Lake drawdown many years ago, I hiked Watauga Lake. The lake floor froze during the coldest portion of that winter, allowing me to walk through the foundations of old Butler.
But why limit yourself to the lakes? If you fish, the area is rife with qualified guides who can show you some great river- and stream-based trout fishing. If you are a fowl hunter (the geese will all be on the golf courses anyway), put away the decoys for a year and hike the hills for grouse. If your preferred use of the waterways isn’t based on hunting or fishing, the Nolichucky River offers rafting and kayaking adventures.
Then again, why limit yourself to the waterways? Within an hour’s drive one can find spectacular day hikes ranging from the tame (if you haven’t hiked before, or if your outdoor activities have started and ended with driving the party barge, start with walking the Tweetsie Trail) to the adventurous.
If you’re not up to mountain hiking, mountain biking or mountain climbing, that’s okay. Gas is cheap right now.
Here’s a great day trip for you: Drive to Valle Crucis, N.C. Stop for a snack and some light shopping at the Mast General Store. If you’re lucky, there may already be pickin’ on the back porch. From there, head toward the Hound Ears Club (Shull’s Mill Road), but keep driving past Hound Ears up the mountain to Blowing Rock. Enjoy more quaint shopping and a variety of lunch options before getting onto the Blue Ridge Parkway south to Asheville for more sophisticated shopping and dinner. Then take I-26 back over Sams Gap into Tennessee.
Between the views on the Parkway and the first 12 miles of I-26 in Unicoi County, you’ll have seen views that rival anything that ten million tourists in the Smokies will see, without the traffic.
And we haven’t yet touched on concerts, festivals and other man-made fun available all summer long. If you normally spend five weekends per summer on Boone Lake, then devote one to the Iris Festival in May, one to Blue Plum in June, one to FunFest in July, one to the Virginia Highlands Festival in August, and one to Rhythm and Roots in September.
If organized sports is your bag, there’s Appalachian League baseball through June and July and the rebirth of ETSU football starting in September.
If you’re more of a participant than a spectator, golf courses abound. If you’re young at heart, maybe disc golf is your game.
Finally, if you truly care about Boone Lake, this drawdown period will create a remarkable opportunity for cleaning up the years of trash that have become part of the once-and-future underwater landscape, and for making improvements like placing new fish attractors. Remember, (like the South) Boone Lake will rise again, and the lake can be better when it does.
Yes, the Boone Lake drawdown will have a negative effect on some segments of the economy and on the traditional outdoor agenda many of us have taken for granted for years. But we are blessed to live where we do. The glory of creation is all around us. Most of the world’s citizens would look at where we live and call it something close to paradise. This year, rather than bemoan the problems, rejoice in the blessings.