July 19, 2008

Carvins Cove Continues to Improve

By Mark Taylor [email protected] 981-3395

If you were in charge of recruiting new businesses to the Roanoke Valley, where would you take the decision-makers as you pitched this area's quality of life appeal?

Mill Mountain, probably, where you could stand on the overlook and give the visitors a good view of our pretty valley.

Probably the bustling downtown on a busy Friday evening.

Maybe Smith Mountain Lake, the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Appalachian Trail.

High on my list would be Carvins Cove Natural Reserve.

At 12,700 acres, it is the second largest municipal park in the nation.

And yet, until recently, Carvins Cove was like a well-guarded secret, open to the public but with lots of restrictions and with little marketing of its offerings.

This is changing as a growing number of Roanoke leaders are coming to understand that one place can serve two roles well, as both an outdoor recreation mecca and a municipal water supply.

My friend and co-worker Sam Dean, who hadn't ridden the Cove's mountain bike trails in years, told me he was blown away after a recent trip to the Cove, where trails that were officially off limits not too many years ago are now beautifully maintained by volunteers and marked by sweet new signs.

And things could continue to improve.

The Western Virginia Water Authority recently agreed to change its fee structure at Carvins Cove to treat all users the same, rather than give preferential pricing and access to residents of certain localities served by the authority.

Another change will allow anyone to bring a boat to the reservoir, as long as the boat meets rigorous testing procedures, including having not been in another body of water for 21 days prior.

Importantly, the changes open the door for the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries to again become involved in the management of the 800-acre lake's fishery.

The agency was once heavily involved with Carvins Cove, monitoring its fish populations and stocking various game fish species.

But once the residential restrictions were put in place the agency bailed because it doesn't actively manage private waters with restricted access.

The last stocking was in 1991, when the agency dropped 6,457 tiny striped bass into the lake. A few of those big stripers are still around, and the lake has been producing a few 25-pounders a year.

Walleyes, which haven't been stocked for nearly 20 years, are gone.

"Species like largemouth bass and crappies kind of manage themselves," said Bud LaRoche, the state fisheries biologist who oversees the Roanoke region. "With walleyes and striped bass, it's just not going to happen unless we get back in there."

And getting back in there is what LaRoche would like to do.

There are a couple minor logistical details.

Before stocking anything the department would want to get on the lake and sample its current fish population. Its sampling boats are equipped with motors that exceed the lake's 10 horsepower limit. Waivers could be provided, LaRoche said he's been told.

During the sampling season it would be difficult to provide boats that hadn't been elsewhere in the previous three weeks. But the biologists could specially sanitize the boats.

It's possible that biologists will get in there, do their sampling and come back saying the reservoir is doing so well on its own that it doesn't need any enhancement.

But that's not probable.

They will come back with a plan to put some additional game fish in there that should lead to new fishing opportunities without significantly impacting the fishing that's already there.

Will it be walleyes and stripers again?

Or something a little unique, such as trout, which were stocked in the lake decades ago?

LaRoche said it's also possible the DGIF could help with improved access, such as a larger fishing pier and possibly even assist with in-water fish attractors.

Not everyone is eager for help from the DGIF.

In a discussion on my blog, one reader focused on my description of Carvins Cove as an outdoors paradise, writing: "The 'outdoor paradise' won't be paradise anymore if Carvins Cove continues to get publicity about stocking stripers and walleyes. Everybody and their brother will want a piece of the action. I say leave it alone."

Certainly, there must be a compromise between sensible use and over-exploitation. No one wants to see Carvins Cove become a zoo.

But given the boating restrictions still in place, and the other big lake boating and fishing options in the region, is that really a possibility, even if the fishing gets better? I just don't see it.

If getting the DGIF back involved with the Carvins Cove fishery can improve the fishing and attract a few more people to the lake, that's great.

It means those people are out there enjoying the outdoors, something that's best when shared.

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