Monday, December 3, 2012

News, a Return to Blog and a Lake Update!

Hi folks! It sure has been a while since our last blog post, we hope you've been keeping up with us on the Facebook and Twitter sites! You may have read the recent article in the Roanoke Times on Mountain Lake, and we'd like to go ahead and share just a few tidbits of the new happenings on the horizon for the Mountain. Firstly, please understand that the Mountain Lake management team will share announcements and a press release addressing the 5-year revitalization plan for the property at the turn of the new year. These internal statements are your best source for the facts and exciting details as developments are solidified. 


An important pre-announcement for the Facebook site:

Two Facebook sites will be merged in to one for Mountain Lake in the near future. Please follow and "like" the current Mountain Lake Hotel page for all of your Mountain Lake news, including the types of posts previously designated to the Conservancy-specific page. The Mountain Lake Conservancy page will be merged to form one single page for Mountain Lake! We are working on the changing the permanent name for this page currently.

The Lakeview building no longer

If you haven't been on the Mountain in the past month or so, you will find that the Lakeview building is no longer there! This was the structure above the main parking lot and between the Activities Barn and main hotel that housed the Conservancy Visitor Center, Mountain Lake Gift Shop, Local Artisan and History shops. The Lakeview building was built in the mid-1900's and contained some of the Chestnut wood beams from the original Mountain Lake hotel! The time came when the building was beyond upkeep and repair, and for safety reasons needed to come down. The Mountain Lake gift shop was relocated to the Spring House building just above, and the Conservancy office is now located in the bottom floor of the main hotel near the executive offices (Winter hours are Monday - Friday, 8am to 4pm).

Permanent plans for the now empty space as well as re-locations of these shops are under review and to-be-determined!

Winter Volunteer Opportunities & Trail Use

If you and a friend or your family are interested in volunteering with the Conservancy on a few trail maintenance projects, please let us know! More details can be found on the MLC website. Opportunities include touching up spray-painted trail blazes and minor clearing. Do you recreate often at Mountain Lake or know someone who does? We could use the help keeping tabs on trail conditions and downed debris, simply send an email to with "trail maint" in the subject line, and a description and location of the trail issue observed. Again, more details for winter volunteer opportunities on the Conservancy website. Thank you!
A winter sunrise from Bald Knob. Photo by guest Dan Phelps.

A reminder that the 20+ miles of Mountain Lake Conservancy trails are open year-round for hiking, mountain biking, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing! The Facebook site is the best resource for the most up to date reports for trail status and snow conditions. Parking is available at the trail access lot located off of rt. 613 just past the lake and near the disc golf course. Please contribute your $5.00 day use pass in the feeder tube at this lot; this is an honor system during the off-season and the funds help us maintain this parking lot and trail system for year-round use!





Lake Update

The lake has continued the same general trend for the fourth season in a row since the initial drastic drop in 2008. This year we saw the lake rise to a level not quite as high as 2011, never bringing the "T" dock down by the water to float. Despite low water levels, the continued status has allowed increasingly fascinating studies and observations of the geology and hydrology behind this unique phenomena. We've blogged some about the researchers and faculty from Radford and Virginia Tech Universities studying the lake from a new perspective influenced by geological engineering principles. The recent Roanoke Times article mentioned above discusses the seismic refraction imaging technique that has taken place in the past couple of months. The team of scientists continue to add to and improve the overall picture of what the rock bed is like underneath the lake, what the actual outflow of water through the bottom looks like, and what factors influence the amount of water retained in the lake bed.

Lake Level Nov 30, 2012

I often hear from folks "how sad" it is that the lake is so low, and I can agree to a degree of this inconvenience. More importantly, however, I encourage visitors to reflect upon the fact that this is one of those rare periods in time when you may observe the lake at this state. If and when the lake returns to full pond, there very well may not be another chance to do so within several lifetimes!!

That being said, each walk that one takes down in to that "empty" lake bed is an exploration of wonder. The oddity and beauty evoked is indescribable. The following are a series of photos and even a video all observed within the lake bed this past Friday, November 30, 2012. Perhaps these will provide a "virtual tour" of sorts in to the lake bottom (and save you the muddy venture!). We hope that this  encourages you to get outside, explore, and connect with the natural world around you wherever that may be!

Two videos linked to You Tube below-

First video is taken near the larger two depressions retaining a pond-size water. While other "bubbles" were observed that appeared to be from fish, these much larger grouped bubbles are likely coming from the piping holes.

The second video is taken just above the west-most depression that is nearly dry and shows the water flowing out through the piping hole. You can see many small, dead minnows and crayfish in the mud, and also the porous, sponge-like impression in the muck.

For reference, the lake level on Nov. 16, 2012.

A spring feeding in to the lake from the East perimeter.

Following a stream of water and looking back South towards the hotel and Bald Knob.

The larger two depressions holding a small pond size of water.

Eroded sediment in the lake bottom forms miniature canyon landscapes.

One of the two "smaller" depressions below and west of the Newport Cottage.

The west-most depression almost completely dry.

View east toward other 3 depressions.

The pole sticking out is actually about 3 feet deep in to a piping hole.

A close-up of that hole reveals a red-spotted newt and crayfish.

The cracked and drying mud of the lake bed.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Lake Update and Race Announcement

The 2nd Annual Mountain Top Trot trail run event will be on Saturday, September 29th at Mountain Lake!! Let's hope the weather is a bit more on the "fair" side this year (compared to the snow flurries last year on Oct. 1!). This year we'll have both a 5-mile and 10-mile race, and raffle prize drawing for all registered participants!! The event website and information is here: If you are interested in volunteering before or during the race, please let us know! It'll be super fun, and volunteers will get free technical race t-shirts and yummy chili and cornbread lunch! Email Jess at

Lake Update

Lake level photo taken July 31, 2012

The lake is currently receding, a trend observed over the past 3 seasons at Mountain Lake. The water level peaked in late July and has been increasing receding since. This time of year there are several factors that decrease the amount of water retained in the lake bed: increased rate of evaporation from the lake due to higher temperatures; an overall lack of precipitation; and an increase in uptake of groundwater by trees and vegetation, meaning less inflow of water to the lake bed. High-altitude divers have been exploring the lake obtain more information and visuals of the dynamics of the lake bed floor. The link below will show you some really neat images that the divers and researchers have gathered.

PDF File with images from current study

The first two images identify significant features of the lake bed including the major depressions (wherein lie many "piping holes" or actual pin-point locations of outflow of water). As noted in the title, these images are from October 2011, the second most recent occurrence of the lake going extremely low (puddle status). The third and fourth pictures are sonar images created while boating on the water's surface last August, 2011. The lake is currently at a lower level now (Aug 8, 2012) than it was on August 16, 2011. The last two images are still shots from a video taken by divers during a dive on July 9, 2012. You can actually see the sediment flow down in to the hole when the diver stirs up the sediment next to the "pipe". We plan to share the video once the researchers have edited it, along with some of the more comprehensive summaries of the hard work they've been up to! 

Stay tuned to the MLC blog for the latest news on the unique lake geology, studies, and discoveries!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012


 NOTICE: Please be aware that due to recent wind storms there are many tree blow-downs and debris obstructing many of the trails within the MLC trail system. Please use caution, especially when biking, while on the trails and side-step any obstacles when possible.

If you are interested in volunteering by helping us inventory the trail statuses and/or clearing minor or major (chainsaw) debris, please contact us at 

We appreciate your patience while we work to keep the trail system cleared!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Summer Season Kicks Off & Lake Update

Greetings! It's been quite a while since our last post and we are back on the blog for the summer season. Yet again, we are reminded of why Mountain Lake is such a wonderful place to be during this time of year. Cool mountain breezes, waist-high, fern-lined trails, and family & friends relaxing and enjoying quality time spent together!

Lake Update

We saw an initially slow rise during the spring season of water in the lake, and are now seeing fluctuating water levels that are very responsive to rainfall and temperatures. Currently, the lake is still low and several feet from the floating "T-dock" down by the water. A team of scientists from Radford University has been studying the lake since last fall with a geological engineering perspective. We had mentioned how they implemented a tracer dye test this past winter and early spring in hopes of determining exactly where the outflow of water through the bottom of the lakebed is going. This test yielded telling results - the fluorescein dye did not show up conclusively in any of the major surface streams near the mountain top, including Pond Drain (originally thought to be the main outflow of water from the lake). What this means is that the water may be held up underground for some period of time, perhaps in a reservoir of sorts, or that the water may flow through the fissures in the lake bottom further down under the mountain and surface streams. The scientists hope to repeat the dye test again in the future, surveying for the dye in underground streams and points near the foot of the mountain.

Lake level on June 27, 2012
As part of the ongoing study, over the next several weeks a team of high-elevation divers will be exploring the lake bottom and main depressions where the larger crevices are. We hope to be able to share any of the under-water photographs they obtain. Also, a live-feed camera will be installed and allow for real-time views of the lake! Stay tuned to the websites, blog, and Facebook - we'll post the link you can follow as soon as it's active!

Please remember to use caution and respect when exploring the lake and lake bed. The pontoon boat has been outfitted for the scientists, divers and their equipment. DO NOT DISTURB ANY RESEARCH EQUIPMENT OR BOATS. Although the lake is low, the water is still very deep, up to 40 feet in some areas. Swimming in the lake is AT YOUR OWN RISK, and we do not encourage swimming or fishing at this time.

The geological engineering research and diving teams have outfitted the pontoon boat for their work. Please, DO NOT DISTURB!

Flags marking the water level dropping - first flag marks water's edge on June 20, 2012, second flag marking June 25, 2012. Currently dropping fast with no real rains in the past week.

Exposed circular nests of the bluegill sunfish in the lake.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Celebrating the Spring Equinox & Lake Update

Today marks the official first day of spring! Although, it has felt like spring for some time now here in the New River Valley. The wood frogs and spring peepers have been calling for several weeks already, and the birds are singing loudly across the property. If you didn't catch it on Facebook last month, check out this video of the wood frogs calling from the wetland on a foggy morning!

Along with unseasonably warm temperatures, we've seen plenty of rain on the Mountain recently. The water level in the lake is slowly and steadily rising, very similar to spring trends of previous years. The water is not far from the floating "T" dock, and we hope to see a continuing rise to get that dock floating in the next few months!

Current lake level, photo taken March 19, 2012
The water is approximately 15 fee from the floating dock

The arrow in this picture points to the ring of grasses that delineate the water's peak level last year

We have several volunteer groups, including students from Virginia Tech, up to hike and clear the trails throughout the next few weeks. One pro to the lack of snow this winter is that our trails didn't get nearly as wrecked as they usually do! The weather is fine all week long, and it's a great time to be out walking the forested trails at Mountain Lake!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Banff Film Festival: MLC is non-profit partner for Blacksburg show!

Wednesday, March 14th
 - Doors at 6pm, Film at 7pm -
at the Haymarket Theater on Virginia Tech campus

Sponsored by Blue Ridge Mountain Sports!
The Mountain Lake Conservancy is very excited and proud to be this year's community non-profit partner for the upcoming showing of the Banff Film Festival in Blacksburg! A portion of the ticket sales will be donated to the MLC - what a great way to support the Conservancy while experiencing an amazing multi-film event showcasing spectacles of the outdoor adventure culture! We'll be at the show promoting MLC membership, 2012 events and programs, and more. There will be several raffle giveaways throughout the show, including a pair of tickets to the BrewRidge Music Festival on May 5th!

Tickets sell out for the Blacksburg showing every year - so please make sure to get your tickets early!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Vacation Giveaway, 5th Annual BrewRidge, and Lake Update

Vacation Giveaway 
with Blue Ridge Mountain Sports!

Six (6) lucky winners will win a FREE 2-night stay for 2 people to be used at the Mountain Lake Conservancy & Hotel in the 2012 season!!
- Click here to find out more information and to enter -

Tickets Now on Sale!! BrewRidge Festival
May 5th, 2012
We have been working hard to get all of the details set for the 5th Annual BrewRidge Festival during opening weekend this season. The festival hours have been extended this year and the event will run from noon to 5pm that Saturday. We are currently confirming and finalizing the featured musicians and microbreweries. Visit us on Facebook to tell us who YOU would like to see jammin' and on tap! 
Festival and ticket information available here.

Lake Update: February 13
Recent snowfall has added some water to the lake, but levels remain low and similar to the past few seasons. There is a current layer of ice on the top, but with mild temperatures ahead this week we will expect that ice to thaw out. We are working on neat, new display for the Conservancy Visitor Center that will feature two slices of trees taken from past stumps in the lake bed. The tree samples are donated by retired Biologist Bruce Parker, who studied the lake in-depth over the past several decades. The wood from the two stumps was carbon-dated as part of past studies, and reveal some really cool insight to the history of the lake cycles in relation to forest biology and tree growth. More on this new display coming soon! Many thanks to Dr. Parker for providing the tree slices and facts for the display.

Photo taken February 13, 2012
Snow on the Mountain - Photo taken from the Salt Lick Spur Trail on February 9th

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Tracer Dye Test and Frozen Lake

Research on the lake has continued for Virginia Tech Geological Sciences Masters student Luke Joyce, along with Engineering Geologists Skip Watts and George Stephenson from Radford University. Exciting developments include the implementation of a tracer dye test to determine outflow of water from the lake - how much water is flowing out and where exactly does it go? Earlier this week, one pound of harmless Fluorescein dye was injected into each of the large holes in the lake floor (see image below). About 3 inches of solid ice on top of the lake had to be hacked through! Coal traps have been set all around  and down the mountain at water outlets and streams to try and "catch" traces of the dye that originated at the lake bed. After about a week's time the traps will be collected and replaced with fresh ones. It will be several weeks before results are configured. "The dye seems green to orange to red to invisible depending on how diluted it is and what background it’s on when you see it" says Dr. Watts. Residents of the mountain will be on the look out for where the dye shows up, and any instances will be recorded for the project. Very cool stuff! If you are in the New River Valley area mid-March, consider attending a presentation "HYDROGEOLOGIC INVESTIGATIONS INTO WATER LOSS AT MOUNTAIN LAKE" as part of the Radford University Museum of Earth Sciences Public Lecture Series. The above mentioned scientists will be presenting an overview of their work thus far at Mountain Lake on Tuesday, March 13, 2012 at 7:00 pm. The lecture series flier with more information can be viewed here.

Luke setting the charcoal traps
Locations of dye release