Bear Creek Lake

Published 5:40 pm Thursday, August 25, 2011

CUMBERLAND – Similar to today, in 1936 America was going through some tough times but in Virginia there were a few places where families could find some relief and go to escape the reality of the economy.

On June 15, 1936, Virginia became the first state in the nation to launch an entire park system-six parks all opened on the same day-and today there are 35 to take advantage of.

The newest park in the state's system is High Bridge Trail State Park and a portion of the day-use trail can be seen if I look out my office window.

Here in our area, we are fortunate enough to have a handful of state parks all within driving distance and Bear Creek Lake State Park is just a short drive away in nearby Cumberland County.

So, there's no excuse. Don't let the summer pass and miss out, it's certainly a refreshing and enticing experience for the whole family.

I took the short drive a few weeks ago and met quite a few nice people and found a whole lot of shade even if the thermome-ter was quickly climbing to 100 degrees.

It's a place to relax, beat the heat, and get away from it all but don't take my word for it go out and see for yourself!

Celebrate the Virginia State Park system's 75th Birthday and enjoy the last days of the summer at Bear Creek Lake.

But, don't worry, if the summer days quickly get away from you.

According to John Zawatsky, Bear Creek Lake's park manager, the park also sees an increase in visitation in the fall when temperatures are cooler and the “trees start changing colors.”

“Although swimming ends with the Labor Day holiday weekend,” he provided The Herald. “The last four months of the fall season are prime camping and outdoor recreation time frames at Bear Creek Lake. Even though kids are back to school, you better have a reservation to camp on weekends.”

It's nestled in the quiet Cumberland State Forest and is perfect for any outdoor enthusiast.

Most of the park's activities are centered on the 40-acre lake, complete with a boat launch and fishing pier-and for the rest of us who just like to cool off there's boat rentals and a swimming beach.

The park also offers top-notch cabins for rent, comfortable camping grounds with plenty of shade, a meeting facility, and an archery range.

“At the half-way point in the year, the park has hosted just over 34,000 day-use and overnight guests,” provided Zawatsky.

The park's weekend total visitation in the summer with full campground and cabins will commonly average about 2,500 people.

“The recent July Fourth Holiday weekend brought out 3,400 visitors to Bear Creek Lake,” added the park manager.

The archery range is the only facility like it in Virginia's state park system, Zawatsky provided.

“It was relocated and rehabilitated in 2010 with the hard work of Bear Creek Lake's 2010 Youth Conservation Corps (YCC),” he said.

“It is cooperatively managed by the Friends of Bear Creek Lake and the park,” noted the park manager. “Although the park has no real archery rental equipment, this summer our Americorps Representative Nickie Uebele and Park Ranger Tom Kneipp attended Instructor Training. The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries presented them with an Archery Trunk for establishing a Youth Archery Introduction Program.”

The park offers archery programs and information can be obtained by calling the park office.

There are also plenty of hiking trails with access to the 14-mile multi-use trail in the state forest, picnicking areas, and a play-ground for even the littlest camper.

It's a perfect place just to get away from the noise and enjoy the screech owls.

Just after that slight left turn at the entrance, you're instantly surrounded by the 16,000-acre Cumberland State Forest, which provides endless opportunities for outdoor activities.

There are even four small lakes managed by the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries for recreational fishing in the for-est with enough forestry roads to keep you hiking and biking for miles and days.

According to the Department of Conservation and Recreation, Bear Creek Lake was built just shortly after the first park was established in 1938 as a project for the Virginia Department of Agriculture through the state's forestry division.

Even though the project was started during the latter days of the Great Depression, the 100 men who built the lake were not members of the Civilian Conservation Corps.

“They were simply carpenters, farmers, and unskilled laborers seeking jobs,” states the information. “Along with the lake, these men built two pavilions, a concession stand and six fireplaces.”

The land was given to the Division of State Parks in 1940 and it was only operated at first as a day-use recreational facility. In 1962, campgrounds were added and the area's name was changed to Bear Creek Lake State Park.

An active friends group also assists the park and works year-round to keep the area in top-notch condition.

To learn more information about the Friends of Bear Creek Lake State Park email the group at

Bear Creek Academy's Conservation Corps also works at the park every Wednesday during its school year to help the rang-ers with ongoing projects. They were recognized this past fall with a resolution of appreciation from the County's Board of Supervisors for their volunteer hours.

One student wrote an essay in the school's spring newsletter about his time spent working at the park and the school's con-servation efforts.

He wrote, “…My friends and I love working for the park. When my friends and I work in the park it makes us feel like we are making it a better place for others to visit. We are trying to keep the park clean because one day we might not have it. I think that some people sometimes take nature for granted. Conservation of the park is important to me because I love being outside and helping people realize that being outdoors is one of the best things you can do.”

It's important to book your reservation well in advance, according to Zawatsky. Weekend cabin rentals and especially cabin rentals during the Columbus Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's holidays are sold out, he advised.

“The cabins are so popular that folks should have reservations for next year's President's Day weekend, spring break time period and the Easter holidays as well,” he noted.

For more information about Bear Creek Lake contact the park's office at (804) 492-4410 and to reserve cabins or a camping spot call 1-800-933-PARK.

The park's facilities can also be reserved online by visiting