Loudoun’s largest lake is a quiet place, disturbed only by singing insects, birds on the wing, wind in the trees, and paddles lapping up the water. It’s also artificial, and it’s getting drained in November.
The county’s largest water utility, Loudoun Water, will partially drain Beaverdam Reservoir to repair the spillway that created the lake, work regulated by Virginia dam safety rules. The reservoir is expected to be closed for about two years, but when it reopens in 2019, Loudoun Water and the Northern Virginian Regional Park Authority hope it will be bigger and better for visitors.
“If you’ve ever driven up and down Belmont Ridge Road on a Saturday, you’ll inevitably pass people with kayaks and canoes on top of their cars,” said NOVA Parks Director of Park Operations Chris Paulie.
His organization manages public access to the reservoir’s waters, and he estimates thousands of people use the lake, including the high school crew teams that practice on the body of water. And more people try the lake all the time.
“It’s really been kind of a little oasis that people are just now discovering,” Paulie said. “It’s been kind of a best kept secret for a long time.”
Loudoun Water purchased the reservoir from the City of Fairfax in 2014 and initially closed it to public assess, citing liability concerns. It reopened the property in May 2015 by partnering with NOVA Parks, but Paulie said it was only ever meant to be a temporary solution. On sunny Saturday mornings, he said, the small parking lot on Mt. Hope Road can be a little tight. That was expected.
“Historically, the Beaverdam Reservoir property has not been planned and designed for public access,” said Loudoun Water Executive Director of Stakeholder Relations Mark Peterson. “There isn’t sufficient parking. The assets around there, the way people can enter the water, is not set up ideally for that, so that’s part of what this process is going to be.”
“There’s a real strong interest in reopening this reservoir with more uses for recreation than what we have right now,” said Loudoun Water’s newly installed Deputy General Manager Tom Frederick, “yet at the same time keeping it within the theme of uses that surround a lake that’s used for drinking water.”
That will limit the possibilities for the lake somewhat, since Loudoun Water doesn’t want to allow contamination for one of its major water sources.
“It’s a drinking water resource first, so whatever we do has to meet those standards, so anything that we think about, or envision, or want to plan, would have to always be done under those guidelines,” Paulie said.
That means no swimming, and except for safety launches, no gasoline engines on the water. But paddling, hiking, picnicking, sightseeing, fishing, electric motors, bike trails, and classroom visits are all in.
“We don’t have details as to what that means right now,” Frederick said. “It’s really still at a vision level, and we’re going to interact with the public to actually help provide some of the ideas.”
The process has already begun with a meeting at the NOVA Parks offices last October. According to a report from that meeting, about 200 people showed up to hear Loudoun Water’s plans and offer their input. They produced a long list of ideas, ranging from marked and separated trails for hiking and biking to buoys and extended hours for fishing.
“It’s basically going to be a great passive recreation park, with some real amenities and a message for how the resource is being protected,” Paulie said.
“When we do close it for a little while, I think there will be a little bit of disappointment, but I think people will be excited by what the reservoir will be,” said Loudoun Water Manager of Outreach and Education Sue Crosby.
And before then, if you have a canoe, a paddle, and a few hours free, you have until November to take in the quiet at Beaverdam Reservoir.