Get To Know The Upper James River Watershed: Lake Moomaw Edition

Nestled in the Alleghany Highlands on the border of Alleghany and Bath County lies a western Virginia high-mountain treasure. Lake Moomaw is located on a stretch of the Jackson River that was backed up by the Gathright Dam some 40 years ago. This created a lake with extensive outdoor recreation opportunities and endless scenic viewpoints. The lake is over 12 miles long, covers over 2,500 square acres, and has a maximum depth of 152 feet. A lake of this proportion allows for countless adventures, and with 43 miles of undeveloped shorelines, the lake offers a chance to find your own private getaway spot or favorite fishing hole. Campgrounds, beaches, and trails line the shore and give people a chance to enjoy the lake from its edges. Lake Moomaw’s depth allows it to support a wide range of warm-water and cold-water fish species. The lake offers all types of boating opportunities as well. From kayaking and canoeing to pulling a wakeboarder behind a boat, there is more than enough room for everyone.

Image 1. A tree break on a trail around Lake Moomaw provides a picturesque view.

Water Quality

To support a “two-story” fishery, the water quality of the lake has to remain in good condition so that population levels remain healthy and interspecies competition is minimized. In short, it is important to make sure the lake’s diverse food web is not out of balance. It is also important to maintain good water quality so that visitors are able to safely swim and boat without worrying about getting sick. Having a shoreline that is largely undisturbed plays a vital role in keeping the lake in pristine condition. The lake is not subject to increased nutrient and sediment loads that result from land disturbances and large areas of impervious surface cover. Moomaw and the Jackson River upstream of the lake are located in the George Washington and Jefferson National Forest, a key reason why land disturbance is at a minimum.

Water quality on the Jackson River downstream of the lake is also impacted by the presence of Lake Moomaw. During the late summer months, mountain tributaries can begin to dry up as rain events occur less often. Water temperature increases and dissolved oxygen levels decrease because of more stagnant conditions and less mixing. Moomaw provides this section of the Jackson with a constant supply of water. When levels below the dam become too low, the dam can release a “pulse” of water to help maintain steady flow conditions. This will help keep temperatures cool and oxygen levels adequate to support the section’s trout population that would otherwise be stressed during the hottest time of the year.

Visitors to the lake have a role in keeping the area healthy. Disposal of trash in the proper locations will help keep litter from washing into the lake and keep the waters beautiful. Campers and hikers who bring their pets should pick up after them to keep harmful bacteria out of the water. Boaters should also make sure that their watercraft is operating correctly and has no leaks that may allow oil or other fluids to seep into the water unknowingly. These small efforts will not only be appreciated by critters that call the lake home, but also by your fellow visitors.

Recreational Opportunities on Lake Moomaw

Camping spots are scattered around the edge of the lake, ensuring that a campground is accessible to people coming from all different directions. There are a variety of campground amenities available, from more dispersed and traditional camping sites, to electricity access and RV accommodations. McClintic Point, Bolar Mountain Recreation Area, Greenwood Point, and Morris Hill Campground are the main campsites that offer overnight accommodations. They are usually open from May through September. Some of the campgrounds are easily accessible and close to main roads, and others you may find yourself boating or hiking to. Lake Moomaw also has trail systems located near the Boral Mountain Recreation Area and at the southern portion of the lake. The trails are fully developed can give you the vantage point to take a screensaver worthy picture.

Image 2. Lake Moomaw Recreational Area

The lake is large enough to maintain coldwater and warmwater fish species. This means that species like black bass (small and largemouth) and various trout species can inhabit different areas of the lake that best suit their desired water conditions. Bass can typically tolerate warm waters, while trout prefer cooler and more oxygen-rich water. A lake as deep as Moomaw provides a water column that can offer different types of habitat. Moomaw also supports other species including catfish, crappie, and yellow perch. The good water quality and diverse habitat area gives anglers a chance to catch a variety of different species. There are multiple boat launch sites so that boaters can get out to their favorite spots quickly or explore a new area of the lake. Boat storage is available at the Bolar Flat Marina so that you can bypass the line at the boat ramp on a busy day and spend more time out on the water.

Whether it is soaking up the sun in the summer or appreciating the stillness and beauty that comes after a snowfall, Lake Moomaw is equipped with year-round opportunities so you always have a reason to visit.

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