“I just saw a truck full of kayaks go down the road to the lake, and that was a great sight to see,” said Steve Keblesh, owner of the Summersville Lake Retreat and Lighthouse. “That’s something we haven’t seen here for a couple of weeks.”
That is because Summersville Lake was filled to its second-highest level in the facility’s 50-year history when nearly 10 inches of deadly rain descended on central and southern West Virginia in just hours nearly three weeks ago. Twenty-three residents perished in the flooding, more than 2,500 homes were destroyed, and W.Va. Gov. Early Ray Tomblin declared 44 counties disaster areas and 12 counties, including Nicholas, where Summersville is located, were declared federal disaster areas by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Summersville Lake was filled with an extra 41 feet by June 25 before officials with the Army Corps of Engineers were able to begin drawing back down to summer-pool levels. Summersville Dam was constructed over a six-year period and opened in 1966. The facility is part of a three-dam system that also includes the Sutton dam in Elk and the Bluestone dam situated on the New River. The dams were constructed to protect communities downstream, including Charleston, and since then the Summerville Lake and Dam were referred to by Beckley columnist Clint Ferguson as a “lifesaver.”
“The campground is far out of any danger of getting flooded, or so we thought,” Keblesh said. “Our roads here are graveled, and when you get a rain like that one, it washed most of that gravel away. It took 52 tons of new gravel to get this place back together.
“But when we traveled to other areas to see how we could help, my wife and I couldn’t believe our eyes. We saw things we never thought we would see,” Keblesh said. “But nature has amazing healing powers, so this area is bouncing back at a good pace, and people are now starting to come back because the lake’s water quality is almost back to normal. The swimming area should re-open this week.”
Swelling the lake closed boat ramps, swimming areas, campgrounds, and in some cases, submerged boats that were tied off. The Long Point Marina came off its support poles but remained in position because of cables and anchors.
Now, though, Summersville Lake Retreat and Lighthouse has reopened along with a few others, and the Long Point and Salmon Run boat ramps are open again. The Battle Run Campground, though, remains closed while the clean-up process continues there. Those wishing to gather updates can do so by calling 304-872-5809.
Most businesses in the Summersville area have been able to re-open now that water service and electricity are available again. Power outages wreaked havoc throughout the flooded areas, causing homes and businesses to employ generators.
“But the generator we hooked up to the place wasn’t strong enough for everything so that’s when I had to decide what to save and what not to save,” said LaVerne Key, owner of the Long Point Bar & Grill. “So the power outage cost me a little more than $1,000, but I didn’t lose everything. Some lost everything. I’m just not sure how you come back after losing everything in your life.
“We have relatives that had a business in one of the worst affected areas, and that business is now gone. Washed away. Gone,” she said. “We were lucky here, but our neighbors in Rainelle and Richwood weren’t. They got hit harder than anyone imagined.”
Although Key does manage a Facebook page for the Long Point Bar & Grill, she has not been very active on social media. What she saw displayed on the news feed though changed her mind a bit.
“After the flooding took place, it’s the best I’ve ever seen Facebook because of the information that the people were putting out there on it,” she explained. “And that allowed a lot of people to help those who needed it most, and not just with supplies. There was a lot of clean-up that had to take place, and so many people volunteered to help those folks.
“The reaction from the people around here and from all over the state has been wonderful,” Key continued. “And the National Guard guys have been here working 13, 14 days straight just trying to make people’s live a little better. It all says a lot about the people of West Virginia; it really does.
This is an area of West Virginia just off of Interstate 79 north of Charleston where you will see vehicles and trucks parked along U.S. Route 19, and that’s because someone knows of a trail to outdoor pleasure that’s not exactly on the beaten path. The people wave to you although they do not know you, and they are willing to help with any information they can offer those seeking the adventures the rivers, and lakes, and state parks have to offer.
And that’s because they want us.
“The flooding hit just as we were preparing for one of the busiest weekends for this entire area, “Keblesh said. “So now that the water quality in the lake has recovered enough for the boat ramps to open again, it’s great to see people getting back to what we usually see around here: the boating and kayaking, the climbing, and the swimming – things like that.
“My wife and I know that a lot of folks from all over this area of the country come to see us because we do our very best to get to know the people who stay with us,” he added. “So we need all of those people to know that this area is recovering and a lot of us are open again. Not all of us, but a lot of us, and it’s happening. We’re a strong people; we really are here in West Virginia.”
(Photos by Steve Novotney)