Staying Golden: Smith Mountain Lake Rings in 50 Years

Three years ago, Jerry Hale woke up in the middle of the night with an idea: Smith Mountain Lake needed a theme song. The idea

Three years ago, Jerry Hale woke up in the middle of the night with an idea: Smith Mountain Lake needed a theme song.

The idea didn’t come out of nowhere. At the time, Hale, who’s been called the lake’s “Camp Counselor in Chief,” had been having discussions with others in the community—Smith Mountain Lake Regional Chamber of Commerce, business owners, residents, etc.—about how best to celebrate the lake’s 50th anniversary in 2016.

Vicki Gardner, executive director at the Chamber, “called a meeting with a number of us with a passion for the lake,” Hale said, adding that Gardner said, “We ought not let [the anniversary] go by without making it a significant occasion for the lake and people who love the lake.”

The group started brainstorming about what the yearlong celebration would look like.
What kinds of events would there be? How would it be funded?

And as they talked, Hale said he began to realize, “This is going to be a big deal, no small, blink-of-an-eye thing.”

Soon after, Hale, who’s also a songwriter, had his midnight epiphany. He got out of bed, went to the computer and within about an hour had written “Jewel of the Blue Ridge,” a song about Smith Mountain Lake.

Hale said he played the song for some friends, including Bill Piatt, chairman of the 50th anniversary steering committee. Piatt found the song and its title, once used as a slogan to promote Smith Mountain Lake, a fitting tribute.

“Lots of us think that’s still an apt description of the lake,” Piatt said.

“The emerald-green water, and it’s really a precious thing, this lake. It’s a gem.”

“Jewel of the Blue Ridge” was later recorded by local musicians Bubba Chandler, Johnathan Dillon, Tim Massey and Mary Prillaman at Blackwater Recording Studio in Wirtz. Everyone donated their time. Hale said he and others are now using the song as an “attention-getter” to promote the anniversary and encourage local organizations to plan events in celebration of it. Apparently, it’s working.

Currently, there are about 100 events on the 50th anniversary calendar. “We’re looking for things that we could do that would honor the 50th but live on well beyond the celebration,” Piatt said, calling these initiatives “legacy projects.”

One of these projects is the Dam 50 Festival on April 2, at the Smith Mountain Lake dam in Sandy Level. Presented by the Franklin County YMCA, the event features three footraces: a 5K, a one-mile fun run and, the premiere event, the Dam 50K.

The 31-mile course was designed by local running legend David Horton who also is the race director.

Awards, given to overall and age-group winners in the 50K, will be made from core samples “drilled out of the rock when they made the dam,” Horton said. “They’re really cool, and they will be shellacked and painted.”

Horton said he expects the 50K to draw a couple hundred runners, and the plan is for the race to be an annual event.

For more information, visit

May 9 through 15 will be “60’s Week” at Smith Mountain Lake, commemorating the decade when the dam was built, and the lake started to fill with water. On May 13 and 14, there will be concerts by the New Crusty Minstrels, a local musical group that includes the aforementioned Jerry Hale, at the Smith Mountain Lake YMCA. In addition to hits from ’60s pop radio, the band will perform “Jewel of the Blue Ridge.” There also will be a weeklong film festival at the Mayberry Drive-in, and a vintage plane and car show will be held at Smith Mountain Lake Airport on May 14.

On May 20, members of the Roanoke Symphony Orchestra, conducted by David Wiley, will perform at Resurrection Catholic Church. For the concert, Wiley has composed what Hale described as a “tribute piece for the 50th anniversary, a composition that will be debuted for the first time at this concert.”

Tickets for the concert are available from the Smith Mountain Arts Council (SMAC), the Smith Mountain Lake Visitors Center and The General Store in Westlake. Premium tickets, which include reserved seating and an after party at Bridgewater Bay Clubhouse, are $60 for SMAC members and $67 for non-members. General admission is $32 for SMAC members and $40 for non-members. Organizers recommend people buy tickets in advance.

“It’s his second time to compose music to fit the lake and honor the lake,” Hale said of Wiley, who collaborated on the score for the movie “Lake Effects,” which was filmed at the lake. “He has a big following here [and] anything lake connected has a big following. I’m pretty sure it will sell out.”

On May 21, the Blackwater Yacht Racing Association will sponsor the BYRA/Pelican Point 50K Around the Lake Yacht Race. The regatta begins and ends at Pelican Point Marina in Union Hall.

“It’s a brand new event,” Pete Phillips, BYRA’s fleet captain, said. “It’s a pretty aggressive idea in this part of the world. … A lot of things were being done for the 50th anniversary, and we felt we needed to do something kind of epic for the sailing community.”

During the race, which could take anywhere from 10 to 24 hours depending on wind conditions, sailing enthusiasts can track their favorite craft via GPS on

“[It] makes this more of an opportunity for the public to follow, and the press to get excited about,” Phillips said. “They can actually go online and follow, this race and see where all the boats in the race are the whole time.”

The race is a fundraiser for the National Kidney Foundation, and there will be a special award given to the team with the lowest adjusted finishing time, based on donations.

For more information or to register, visit

The Moneta/Smith Mountain Lake Library will host an exhibit of historic lake photos from June 1 through August 31. An opening reception will be held on June 2. Photos in the exhibit will be provided by local residents.

Library manager Rosey Clark is asking people to bring in photos from the 1960s or earlier, “when the lake was built or before the lake was built.” Family photos are welcome, and people are asked to enlarge the photos and mount them in black frames, if possible.

Clark said the library can help with scanning, if needed. For more information, call (540) 425-7004.

On June 4, the Jersey Girls, a club made up of lake residents who hail from the Garden State, will host “Walk for the Animals,” a fundraiser to build a dog park at Smith Mountain Lake. The 5K run/walk will be held at Moneta Park.

In addition to the walk, the event will include vendors of dog- and cat-related products, pet photo opportunities, music, refreshments, local art and an obstacle course. Registration is $25.

For online registration and more information, visit

The Smith Mountain Lake Cardboard Boat Regatta will be held July 30 at the W.E. Skelton 4-H Educational Conference Center in Wirtz. As one might imagine, this involves people racing boats made from cardboard. Participants will use cardboard, donated by Corrugated Container Corporation in Roanoke, to design and build their own watercraft.

Piloted by at least two sailors, the boats will negotiate a 200-yard course. Race team categories include, among others, corporate and family. In addition to speed, teams will be judged for things like design, decor, construction and “most spectacular sinking.” Locals might have seen the Santa Maria, a cardboard model of Christopher Columbus’ ship, promoting the regatta at the Rocky Mount and Smith Mountain Lake Christmas parades in December.

There will be a pre-race party the evening before the regatta on July 29. The Picnic Jamboree, as it’s being called, is open to both racers and non-racers and includes live music, food trucks, local wine and craft beer. Admission for the Jamboree is $10. There is no admission fee for the regatta on Saturday.

The Cardboard Boat Regatta is a fundraiser for 4-H camp scholarships. For more information, visit 4-H center’s website,

On Aug. 6, at Bernard’s Landing in Moneta, the Franklin County YMCA will sponsor a Guinness World Record challenge. The goal is to break the record for “most people floating in a line,” Lauren Acker, the Y’s executive director, said.

According to, the current record of 634 people was set in 2014 by a group of Harley owners in Taiwan in 2014. Acker’s goal is 700 people. Participants can sign up in advance at the YMCA or on the day of the event at Bernard’s Landing.

Acker said, “This is going to be a fun event for the entire community with lots of community support, and we hope everyone from near and far can come out and help us reach our goal.”

A complete calendar of Smith Mountain Lake 50th events can be found at

By Suzanne Ramsey

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