By Linda Salisbury
Lake Anna State Park is a lush centerpiece of Central Virginia. The 3,000 acre park has 10 miles of lake frontage plus campsites, cabins, yurts, trails, and more. It is one of Virginia’s 37 state parks and is considered a recreational treasure by both locals and visitors. You might call it “golden,” an appropriate nod to its rich historical past as the site of the Goodwin gold mine that dates to 1829.
Lake Anna was created in 1971 to serve as a water source for what is now called Dominion Energy’s North Anna Nuclear Power Station. A year later, work began on the acquisition and development of a water-oriented state park, and Lake Anna State Park opened in 1983.
Once you pass through the entrance gate, it’s time to take a deep breath and relax on the slow drive through woods to secluded areas for your stay – however long – or all the way to the beach, picnic areas, playground, and the interactive visitor center.
As of 2018, there are 10 twin-bedroom cabins, two 16-bed lodges that were opened in 2017, and four new yurts (one is handicap accessible). The fully-equipped “housekeeping” cabins and the two lodges enjoy views of the water.
Also, there are small docks in case visitors plan to bring a boat or rent one for water adventures including fishing for varieties of catfish, crappie, bass, stripers, and sunfish. The yurts – with electricity, air conditioning, and proximity to rest room facilities – are expected to open this summer.
Fifteen miles of trails (including one trail equipped with exercise stations) are available for hiking, biking, and horseback riding through the hardwood and pine forests throughout the year.
“I look at this, and what’s not to love?” said former Gov. Terry McAuliffe. He and his wife Dorothy visited the park April 2, 2017 to cut the ribbon for the park’s two new lodges. One of these structures is named for Jo and Johnny Finch, extraordinary volunteers at the local and state level. The governor and the first lady spent weekends at all of Virginia’s state parks during his four-year tenure to fully experience what each had to offer residents and visitors.
The public seems to agree with McAuliffe’s analysis. There’s much to love about Lake Anna State Park. In fact, it can be hard to find parking on holiday weekends when large, festive (often family) gatherings picnic along the waterfront where a large, sandy beach and playground are available and some trails begin.
Mindful of the needs of handicapped or disabled individuals, the park plans to open this spring a canoe/kayak launch site that will include access for Americans with Disabilities (ADA) through a floating dock system. This will allow safe and stable access to the water. This new launch area is located on Ware Creek rather than near the busy boat launch area on the main lake in the vicinity of the beach.
The local human energy that supports the park includes Park Director Dan Quesenberry and his staff of 47 during peak season. Also, more than 35 volunteers – including Scouts, community groups, and employees of Dominion Energy – help throughout the year.
The volunteers are led by Jo and Johnny Finch, a couple who retired to Lake Anna only to become full-time volunteers. They have spearheaded fund drives at the state and local level to benefit Lake Anna State Park and the parks throughout the state and work closely with staff to help with projects.
The influx of visitors supports local businesses as well. Through the Finches, the park has made connections with the Lake Anna Business Partnership, helping get the word out to park visitors about restaurants, other local business amenities, and events in the lake’s vicinity.
Since 1998, when they retired to the lake, the Finches have volunteered in excess of 31,000 hours with park organizations at the state and local level. In 2017, Johnny stepped down from serving as the president of Virginia Association For Parks (VAFP), which is an umbrella organization for Virginia’s state parks and 63 nature areas, 22 national parks, monuments, and historical sites within the commonwealth. The VAFP is an advocacy group for the park system’s funding.
Jo was a founding member in 2002 of Friends of Lake Anna State Park and has served continuously as the group’s president since that time. Among their successes on the local level, the state and local organizations – with the help of Dominion and a partnership with
Imperial Multimedia of Wisconsin – developed the educational visitor’s center. Visitors can play interactive games, watch a 3D movie, and learn more about the park and wildlife from one of the interpreters. Not surprisingly, the park is a go-to place for families and home schools.
Quesenberry, who has managed the park since 2015 and worked for the state park system since 1999, has a passion for special events. During his tenure, there has been an increase in festivals and other happenings that bring thousands of visitors to the park. Among them are the annual Brewfest (May 19) and Wine by the Lake (Sept. 15), as well as triathlons such as the LA Giant Acorn Olympic set for Oct. 22. The schedule of park and community events is updated quarterly on the park’s website. Among the events are numerous activities for kids and families including walking with a naturalist, arts and crafts, and learning more about wildlife such as snakes.
Quesenberry said that the park has become such a popular destination that parking and camping is often stretched to its limit. The master plan – which calls for an amphitheater, new offices, a visitor center, and additional parking – are estimated to cost millions. Meanwhile, the park can accommodate 332 campers (tents, yurts, cabins, etc.) at a time. And the beach, boat ramp, and other day parking areas can accommodate 600 cars, or approximately 2,400 people for festivals or day use.
He said of the “day” people, some come for family picnics or the festivals, others have their weddings, graduation parties, corporate retreats, and even mass baptisms.
“We have a lot of baptisms,” he said, recalling one that involved 600 people arriving in five buses and a “bunch of vans.” Quesenberry said that organizers with the group from the D.C. area had passed up other lake and river opportunities to reach Lake Anna, which they said was much cleaner. No advance notice is required, so large crowds arriving can be a surprise.
Horseback riding clubs often arrive with their steeds to enjoy the trails.
Aside from its natural beauty and amenities, the park also has much for treasure seekers, including geocaching and letterboxing. Geocachers use a GPS, which can be rented at the visitors center, to find hidden containers. Letterboxing is similar but uses clues instead of GPS.
The park plans special events during holidays such as Earth Week and organizes canoe trips, scavenger hunts, and nature walks.
With so much natural beauty, serenity, and fun… Indeed, what’s not to love?