Backroads: Sherando Lake

Arial view of Sherando Lake after opening. Photo courtesy U.S. Forest Service.

In February of 1934, the hearty men of the 351st Civilian Conservation Corps, based in Sherando, Virginia, began clearing the lakebed for a new recreational area that the U. S. Forest Service was slated to build. The park, which was going to be called the Sherando Lake Recreational Area, was part of a 30,000-acre game refuge called Big Levels located in the George Washington National Forest. 

The 21-acre lake, fed by spring water and formed by an earthen dam 207 feet in length, sloped off from a sandy beach build for wading and swimming to a twenty-foot depth at the dam.

After construction of the rock bath house. Photo courtesy U.S. Forest Service.

The work continued until July 1, 1936, and the government’s plan was that they would have the new recreational area open to the public in time for the July 4th opening of the Shenandoah National Park.  A large dedication service was being held at Shenandoah Park and President Roosevelt was going to be in attendance. Officials were hoping to open Sherando Lake in conjunction with the National Park just twenty miles away.

Although the lake was not entirely finished, some 2,500 visitors came for the 4th of July holiday. The men from the CCC camp served as lifeguards on the sparkling sandy beach they had constructed just a few years prior.

Early sign at lake entrance. Photo courtesy U.S. Forest Service.

Hours set for the new facility were limited to weekdays from 4:30 p.m. until 7:30 p.m. and on Saturdays from 1:30 p.m. until 7:30 p.m. Sundays and holidays the lake hours were from 10 a.m. until 7:30 p.m. Use of the recreational area was limited to swimming, boating and picnicking.

At this time the stone bathhouse had not been constructed and facilities for camping were not yet available. The water system would come much later in the project and those using the area had to provide their own refreshments.

Ditch construction into the lake. Photo courtesy U.S. Forest Service.

Development continued on the area until its final completion in 1938. The park was closed during World War II and was reopened and rededicated in August of 1946.

Because of an increase in population, expansion and development of a new camping area and other facilities continued well up into the 1960s.

Dam & spillway after November 30, 1934 flood. Photo courtesy U.S. Forest Service.

In a newspaper article that ran Friday, May 28, 1937, under the caption, “Your Questions About Sherando Lake Answered,” there were some interesting facts concerning the recreational area.  “How deep is the water?  How wide is the lake? How big is the dam? Anticipating the need for answers to these and other questions about Sherando Lake Forest Camp, the News-Virginian published pertinent information about the lake with answers to questions being supplied by R. F. Knoth, assistant in education and information from the U. S. Forest Service office in Harrisonburg. Facts about the lake are as follows:

  • Area of lake, 21 acres
  • Maximum width, 500 feet
  • Maximum length, 1800 feet
  • Maximum depth, 27 feet
  • Elevation crest of dam, 2031 feet
  • Elevation water, 2022 feet
  • Elevation spillway floor, 2018.5
  • Elevation top flashboards, 2022
  • Height of flashboards, 3 feet 6 inches
  • Length of dam, 236 feet
  • Width of dam atop, 8 feet 6 inches
  • Width of dam at base, 218 feet
  • Length of spillway, 140 feet
  • Width of spillway, 35 feet
  • Cubic yards of earth in dam, 40,800 cubic feet
  • Cubic yards of concrete in spillway, 950 cubic yards
  • Height of gate tower, 35 feet

Today, the lake is still as pristine as the day it opened. The campsites are wooded and set off to themselves and the lake is still spring-fed by the cold, clear mountain streams. The open-air amphitheater is used on a regular basis for entertainment for those camping, and there are numerous trails for the hiking enthusiasts. Trout streams abound in the recreational area, and they are well- stocked during fishing season. The lake is also a favorite spot for locals who just want to come and enjoy Sherando lake for an afternoon.

Many people over the years have benefited from the U. S. Forest Service’s plan to construct a recreational area in a deep hollow against a backdrop of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Their foresight, along with the men from the 351st Civilian Conservation Corps who provided much of the labor to complete the project, have opened up numerous ways for people to get out in the great outdoors and we thank them for preserving this special gift of nature for all to enjoy. 


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