Claytor Lake is a 21-mile long man-made lake steeped with the historical and geological significance of the area and of the New River, which it contains. The New River is one of the few rivers in North America to flow north, and it is the only river to cut through the entire width of the Appalachian Mountains. The entire lake loops through Pulaski County, Virginia.
Claytor Lake was built on the New River in the 1930’s by Appalachian Power Company. It was completed in 1939 and harnesses the water power of the New River to produce 75,000 kW of “green” energy while creating a deep 4,475 acre lake. Because it is part of the New River basin, an ancient river that in ages past carved its way through rock and gaps in the mountains, there are dramatic stone cliffs and steep shores with some gently sloping areas. AEP still owns much of the land around the lake, principally steep slopes and areas whose drainage could damage the quality of the water and increase silting. Because of this, developed land around the lake is frequently buffered by wooded land and natural habitats in many areas. This contributes to the quality of the water in the lake as well as to the quality of home sites and usage of the lake.
Claytor Lake is generally a very healthy ecosystem with clear, cold and deep water. Under the waters, in the river bottom, are some early settlements along the “great road” used by travelers moving west. The great road, now known in many areas as Wilderness Road, followed ancient footpaths used by Native Americans, the early explorers, and the wagon trains of early settlers. One place to learn more about the 1700-1800’s along the Wilderness Road is the Wilderness Road Regional Museum, located in the historic village of Newbern just off exit 98 of I-81. Newbern is a typical linear ridge village established by local farmer and entrepreneur Adam Hance in 1810. Some of the original structures are still standing, and many are occupied.
The New River has its beginnings in North Carolina, flows into Virginia through some of the most spectacular mountain land in Mount Rogers National Recreation Area and Grayson Highland State Park. It winds through SW Virginia through Giles County and the Peters Mountain Wilderness into West Virginia and ultimately to the Mississippi River.
Claytor Lake has its own sailing club, the Claytor Lake Sailing Association, (CLSA), based in the Claytor Lake State Park Marina. It supports all types and levels of interest in sailing and sailing-based camaraderie through a variety of sailing-related events. One of the more beautiful scenes on the lake is the sails scooting across the waters with tall forested slopes in the distance.
Those who love the lake and New River love it deeply, for a variety of reasons but mainly for the incredible beauty and contribution to a quality of life. The rim of mountains, the views of the lake over farms and framed by high cliffs, the sight of early morning spring fog along the lake against the backdrop of the ridges all bring fresh hope that perhaps mankind will not destroy our beautiful planet but will protect it and learn to live in harmony with nature while enjoying it.
Generally, there are considered to be three main areas of the lake: the upper lake runs from Lowman’s Ferry Bridge to the Hiwassee Trestle where the New River Trail crosses New River. Mid lake is generally thought to run from the bridge to the cliffs and the upper portion of the state park. The lower lake is the widest portion and runs from the state park bend to the dam.