Located on the Roanoke River this concrete arch dam was built by Appalachian Power between 1959 and 1965 in order to create hydroelectricity. It took 200 workers, and a lot of dirt being moved in order to make the project a reality. The installation of a 1,500 foot cable between the mountains aided in moving material back and forth throughout the construction process. Upon the dam walls being completed in September of 1963, the Blackwater and Roanoke Rivers started to fill the lake. It wasn’t until March 7th of 1966 when the lake finally reached capacity. Smith Mountain Lake is a result of the dam project where a reservoir of water is stored and utilized to make electricity, to the tune of 605,000 kilowatts at full operating capacity. Five generating units then disperse the power.
The Smith Mountain Hydro-Electric Project
The Smith Mountain Lake Dam utilizes pumped-storage hydro-electricity whereby water that is released downstream can be pumped back into Smith Mountain Lake for re-use. Typically the hydro-electricity is produced during the daytime when demand for use is the highest then pumped back into the lake at night when the demand rate is lower. Also producing hydro-electricity is the Leesville Dam. While smaller in size the dam can aid in regulating the outflow from Smith Mountain Lake’s outflows and also stores water that is pumped back into Smith Mountain Lake.
The Smith Mountain Hydro-Electric Project features an observation area and Visitors Center that is operated by Appalachian Power. Open through Labor Day, the Visitors Center is open Tuesday through Saturday between the hours of 9am to 5pm and on Sunday from 1pm to 5pm. The overlook area closes each of these days at 4:30pm. With no charge for admission, a range of exhibits is shown that tell about the history of the project and how power is generated. Follow the signs from Route 40 to Smith Mountain Dam.
Recreational Opportunities Galore
With its 500 miles of shoreline and 1,142,000 acre-feet of water storage Smith Mountain Lake is touted as the recreational capital of Southwest Virginia. This “Jewel of the Blue Ridge Mountains” encompasses 32 square miles of surface with the deepest point being at 250 feet that is right near the dam itself. The average depth at most points is 55 feet deep. Smith Mountain Lake has gained in popularity and notoriety over its 48 years of existence and is a sought after destination for many.