Whitewater, Bridges, Homesites Emerge During Mega-Drawdown of Summersville Lake

Charleston Gazette
16 November 2013
By Rick Steelhammer

SUMMERSVILLE -- The sights and sounds of whitewater churning over and around boulders in the Gauley River are making a rare return appearance this week under the U.S. 19 and W.Va. 39 bridges spanning sections of Summersville Lake.

Once every 10 years, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lowers the normal winter pool of the state's largest reservoir an additional 55 feet to allow personnel to inspect and perform maintenance on intake and outflow structures at the base of Summersville Dam. The deeper drawdown allows sections of the Gauley River channel to briefly emerge from the depths of the lake, under which this stretch of the legendary whitewater stream has slumbered since the dam was completed in 1966.

During a routine 10-year inspection that took place in 2011, it was discovered that an intake valve wouldn't seal completely enough to allow inspectors inside the lower portion of the 40-story dam.

"In order to inspect the tunnel carrying water from the lake to the river, we have to seal off the lakeside gates well enough to put people in to walk through," said Toby Wood, project manager at Summersville Lake. "We couldn't get it sealed well enough two years ago for that to happen. It caused no problems with the operation of the dam, but when you have a structure that's pushing 50 years old, it needs to be inspected and maintained."

After parts were ordered and plans were revised, the lake is once again at 55 feet below normal winter pool to accommodate repairs and, hopefully, an inspection.
"We were planning to be at this level for two weeks, and it looks like we are still on track for finishing up a weekend from now," Wood said.

Until then, the lake, which provides nearly 2,800 acres of surface area during the summer, is reduced to less than 500 acres, causing a number of lake bottom features to see daylight for the first time in years.

"One of the most noticeable changes taking place now is being able to see the river as it originally ran through what is now the lake," said Wood. "You can see sections of creeks running into the lake that are normally covered with water, and some old home sites."

 One such site can be seen a few hundred feet of rocky, muddy lake bottom across from Sarge's Dive Shop at the now high-and-dry Long Point Marina. Cut rock foundation stones, cement blocks, bricks and a square iron frame anchored in cement are all that's left of the homesite that was once apparently a part of the farming community of Gad, which ceased to exist with the creation of the lake.

Nearby, on a rock at the edge of a former creek channel, the hand-carved name of "Cecil Dorsey" can be found, along with a smaller carving bearing the initials RCD and the date 1916.

An Internet search indicates that a Cecil Dorsey was born at Gad in 1897 and died in Nicholas County in 1966. Cecil Dorsey is also pictured with fellow classmates of the old McKees Creek School at Gad, in a school photo taken in 1912 and reprinted in the Nicholas Chronicle in 1987.

Among other features that emerge from the lake during the once-a-decade inspection draw-downs is a pre-lake roadway that parallels the Gauley River channel and bridge piers that are the remnants of a pre-lake highway crossing of the Gauley near the present W.Va. 39 bridge over an arm of the lake.

With the lake level now so dramatically reduced, all boat ramps are too far from the lake surface to accommodate launching. When the normal winter pool is restored, boat access will return to the lake.

Reach Rick Steelhammer at rsteelham...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5169.