After having suffered through some of the most miserable high heat I’ve ever experienced in eastern North Carolina it seemed quite the thing to do to retreat to the high mountains of western Virginia for a few days of relief and a chance to show a 14-year-old grandson some of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
I’d heard a lot about a section of Western Virginia called Lake Moomaw that was located within the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests. It was an area located near the famed Greenbrier and Homestead resorts in Bath County (Va.). This isn’t far off the West Virginia state line and is reported to have some of the better campgrounds to be found anywhere.
One such campground is in the Bolar Mountain Recreation Area located alongside the 2530-acre Lake Moomaw (named for Benjamin Moomaw, who was largely responsible for helping the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers build the lake in 1981.). The recreation area is located within the 13,428-acreVirginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries Garthright Wildlife Management Area.
I’ve camped, hunted and fished in U.S. Forest Service (USFS) lands in virtually every state and have been impressed with what the USFS has been doing with managing our forest reserves. Some of the very finest recreational facilities in America are available within these areas.
In most of these USFS lands you can camp pretty much anywhere you drop your backpack and choose to spend a quiet night. In other areas, campsites are set up to accommodate the outdoorsmen who prefer creature comforts such as rest rooms, hot showers, picnic tables and fire rings. Take your pick but remember that these are our taxpayer-owned lands and treat them accordingly.
Since we’d decided to spend a few days at the Bolar Mountain Campground we set off driving off on what we figured to be about an 80-mile drive to the campground. We soon discovered that there was considerably more driving involved since this particular campground was located on the far side of Lake Moomaw and in order to get there you had to drive all the way around the lake in order to gain access to this camp. I had no complaints about this unexpectedly long drive to the camp after having seen some of the scenery we passed through on the way.
Two of the most exclusive resorts in the United States are located along US Rt. 220 N. The Greenbrier and Homestead Hotel/resorts are world renowned for their accommodations (and prices) but remain as quiet “playgrounds” for the well-to-do.
The Greenbrier is particularly interesting in that some years ago, when our nation was a little paranoid about a nuclear attack on our Capitol, our government decided that the Greenbrier was the perfect spot to locate an underground bunker to accommodate our heads of government in case of a disaster. We taxpayers paid a pretty penny to have this bomb-proof hideout located under the Greenbrier. Anyone can visit this unused public facility today and witness first-hand how our leaders would have lived in luxury if Washington, D.C., should have been nuked. Supposedly this huge underground bunker would have survived a direct hit from an atomic bomb.
The Bolar Mountain Campground is located some 20 miles from this beautiful area. When we arrived at the gatehouse at the entrance I was taken aback to see that the gatekeeper was not a U.S. Forest Service employee. Instead, the gatekeepers wore shirts proclaiming that they were employees of a non-government agency called American Land and Leisure. This was a surprise when you are used to seeing government employees dressed in their “Smoky Bear” uniforms in attendance at the camps.
When I questioned what was going on here I was told that the USFS had decided to turn the management of certain campgrounds across the country over to a private company. Bids were submitted to the USFS and the American Land and Leisure (AL&L) from Orem, Utah, submitted the lowest bid. I must say that I was a little apprehensive about what we’d find when we arrived at our assigned campsite.
Incidentally, our permit for a lakeside campsite and all other facilities in the area cost $20 per day. With my Senior Citizen Passport that cost was reduced by 50 percent to $10.
While some campgrounds operated by the Forest Service do have relatively clean restrooms, potable water and hot showers, I’ve found that these were often a little “run-down” after years of use by a public that was not exactly known for looking after our facilities. The USFS (part of the Department of Agriculture) is notoriously low of funds for facility maintenance and not quite able to keep our lands up to standards of excellence.
Apparently someone at the upper levels of the USFS finally realized that they might be able to hire out the everyday management of some campgrounds over to a private company and save us taxpayers some money by doing so.
Up front I must say that this “privatization” (I guess you could say “in sourcing”) of the management of some public recreation areas seems to be a huge success.
Our lakeside campsite was unusually clean even after the widespread storms (Derecho’s) wreacked havoc on these mountains (personal observations—much worse there that we eastern North Carolina folks received). We were greeted by a resident campground host (AL&L employee) who checked out our passes and showed us where all the facilities were located.
Those restroom and hot shower facilities were a real shocker. I’d expected these to be the usual marginally clean bathrooms and showers but these under the management of the AL&L crew were spotlessly clean. There was clean hot water for several individual showers and the restrooms were likewise unbelievably clean.
After setting up our tent and unloading our gear we towed our small boat over to the campground marina to launch. The onsite store offered ice, gas and groceries as part of our $10 per day camp fee. Like our campsite and facilities, the marina was wonderfully clean and operated by very helpful AL&L employees.
This area of Virginia is somewhat remote and some local residents found that it was to their benefit to take employment with the AL&L group. Their local knowledge was a tremendous help to the campers who needed to be pointed in the right direction to find fishing spots on Lake Moomaw. Retirees from other areas also found extra income opportunities here to be of help since they could pull their campers to the area and become campground hosts to the paying visitors.
These local sources of information also showed promise if we should want to return to this huge wildlife management area to hunt during deer season. Everywhere we looked we saw deer and it looked like this herd needed thinning out. The Virginia Division of Game and Inland Fisheries bulletins also pointed out that there were excellent hunting opportunities in the area for wild turkeys, ruffed grouse and black bear.
For the first time I saw whitetail deer wading in the shallow shorelines with their heads completely underwater as they fed on the lush submerged aquatic vegetation of Lake Moomaw. I’ve seen moose feeding like this up in Maine but for deer, this was a first.
Incidentally, the State of Virginia State Parks also offers the opportunity for deer and turkey hunters to hunt in the state parks. This is something our state of North Carolina State Parks should consider.
Fishing on Lake Moomaw offers a huge variety of angling opportunity for largemouth and smallmouth bass, lake, brown, rainbow, brook and lake-run trout, salmon and pickerel. Only a Virginia fishing license is needed to fish there.
Our U.S. Department of Agriculture used our tax money to purchase our National Forest and the USFS was designated to administer these lands. Unfortunately our government agencies are not noted for being very efficient in spending our tax money when it comes to administrative costs. Like many other U.S. government agencies they tend to waste our tax money like it was their own. Top heavy with highly paid administrators, our government is notorious for wasting our dollars.
As is often said, “If a private business operated like our federal government, they’d quickly go bankrupt.”
Maybe the USFS is making some effort to correct these problems by letting the day-to-day management of some functions be in-sourced to American private businesses (such as the privately owned American Land and Leisure Company) and let them look after the operations of our public recreation areas. This has meant that our Forest Service is using less government workers and hiring more private Americans to carry out the work (Less government and more jobs for individual American workers).
In my years of camping on public facilities across the United States I’ve never experienced a better-managed public or private recreation area than the Bolar Mountain Recreation Area. Maybe the U.S. Forest Service is onto a good thing here.