April 21, 2017
Several years ago, Robert Boyd opposed the construction of the Philpott Marina, but now, he can’t quite remember why. Maybe he feared more traffic and congestion at the lake, or maybe he just didn’t want change, he said recently.
“I told Benny it would mess up my fishing,” Boyd said, referring to the late Henry County administrator, Benny Summerlin. And his fellow fishermen worried that the beauty of Philpott Lake would be spoiled, Boyd added.
But now, “I’m glad it’s here,” Boyd said of the marina, explaining that it has reduced vandalism and provided needed services in the area. He is so convinced of its value that he supports the idea of expanding the number of boat slips at the marina and wishes they would have more fishing tournaments there, which also would mean more business for the facility.
The marina’s 40 slips have been rented since before the facility opened on March 31, 2014. At the end of March this year, there were 65 people on a waiting list for slips, which rent for $1,200 a year each (or $1,300 if the fee is covered in three payments).
Henry County Parks and Recreation Director Roger Adams said about half of the people who lease slips are local, and most have recreational boats. Others are from as close as the Tidewater area and North Carolina and as far as Pennsylvania and Florida, he said.
Adams believes 30 to 40 more slips could be filled. It would not be cost effective to add fewer, he added.
“How many can we get and stay in the cove” of Philpott Lake is the question, he said, adding that the expansion might be on the table next year.
“We are considering adding slips in the near future,” said Henry County Administrator Tim Hall. “We are working on cost estimates now. If we decide to proceed with expansion, we would have discussions with our community partners — the (U.S. Army) Corps of Engineers, The Harvest Foundation and the Martinsville-Henry County EDC (Economic Development Corp.) – to determine a project and fiscal path forward. Given that our current slips have been rented since day one and we have a substantial waiting list, we can make an easy argument for adding slips.”
Hall said it is hard to quantify the growth in traffic at Philpott and whether it is due to the marina because the facility does not charge admission or require tickets.
“However, I think it’s safe to assume that if the marina’s slips are fully rented and the adjacent campground is fully booked for each six-month cycle of reservations, then the overall numbers at Philpott are going to be up,” he said.
And on a cash-flow basis, the marina has made money in each of the past two fiscal years, according to Darrell Jones, the county’s director of finance.
Adams said based on comments he’s heard, he is certain the marina brings visitors into the area.
“I know more folks are coming here for the lake and marina and I’m sure in turn they are buying fuel for their vehicles and eating in restaurants,” he said.
It is not just the boat slips that have been successful. Adams said both the store and fuel sales have posted small increases since the marina opened. Those facilities, along with the nearby group campground, have been self-sufficient since they opened, he said.
“Everybody loves it. People that rent slips love having their boat there. The comments I hear are that people use their boats a lot more,” such as by taking their boat out on the lake after work, he said. “They save money not having to haul their boat up and down the road. They like having fuel there. They don’t have to take their boat out of the water to fuel up.”
Boyd echoes that. He lives in Whitby Acres, only about a 10-minute drive from the marina, so he does not rent a slip. But he puts his boat in the lake there when he goes fishing once or twice a week.
In the past, if he ran short of gas or other supplies, he said he had to take his boat out of the water, load it back on its trailer and go to a nearby store. If he left his boat tied at the marina when he went to run errands, Boyd said he would fear the boat would be gone by the time he got back.
But now, Boyd said he can get gas at the marina and tie his boat up while he gets snacks and supplies at its store. That is convenient, and it means he can stay out on the water longer, he added.
The marina area also is more secure at night because of cameras positioned in the area, Boyd said.
“Obviously, it’s been a good thing,” he added.
At the marina’s store, people can get a hot dog and coffee or toiletry items and camping supplies. There are snacks and drinks as well as fishing tackle and flip flops.
Ice cream is a big draw, said Mike Adkins, one of nine part-time employees at the marina. Like Adams, he observed that some area residents go to the marina at night, buy ice cream and sit outside to watch the boaters.
Joyce and Leon Merrix of Bassett Forks were at the store on a recent Saturday picking up some snacks. It is the only store in the area where they can find their favorite — Uncle Rays Salt and Vinegar style chips, Joyce said.
As they talked, three young boys from the group campground came into the store. They bought Yahoo chocolate drink, “Ring Pop” candy and other snacks.
Adkins, who is retired from VF Imagewear and the funeral home business and has worked at the marina since it opened, said the campground is a plus for the marina, bringing customers who can walk down a trail to the store. Some people bring picnic lunches and eat at the tables outside the store, overlooking the water.
It costs $150 a night to lease the group campground’s 10 spaces. Each space has water and sewer hookups, and there is a new rest room and shower building, picnic shelter and trail to the marina. It is the only group campground at Philpott and the only one with all those amenities, Adams said.
Campers also can use two boat slips at the marina.
“It’s a fairly inexpensive vacation,” Adams said, referring to the $150 fee that works out to $15 a night per spot. Many people rent the whole campground but use only some of the sites so they will have privacy, he added.
“It’s always booked,” he said, adding that the next open weekend for the campground is Oct. 6-7.
Adkins, who has lived in the Philpott area all his life, said some people come from Smith Mountain Lake and find they prefer Philpott because of the beauty and landscape.
“They should have done this years ago,” Adkins said of the marina/store/campground facilities.
Some “die-hard fishermen” who opposed the marina still are not used to it, but they will buy gas and ice there now, Adkins said. “They’re coming around,” he added.
The only change he would make at the marina would be adding boat slips, he said.
Officials with The Harvest Foundation, EDC and Henry County — the three partners in the original $1.35 million marina project — praised its success and its impact on the area’s economy.
Allyson Rothrock, president of The Harvest Foundation, which provided a $250,000 grant in 2012 for the marina’s development, said the marina’s impact on the community is “evidenced by the waiting list and by the fact they are sustaining it and growing. We view their increased sales there (through visitors buying goods, etc.) as an economic impact for the community that did not exist before the marina was constructed.”
The EDC invested $150,000 in the marina.
“We consider it a huge success and are considering contributing to the expansion,” said Mark Heath, president/CEO of the EDC. “We do take prospects there and they are greatly impressed with the lake, the marina and Roger’s (Adams’) staff there. I can't say enough good things about it, and it is a centerpiece in our overall tourism efforts.”
“The marina absolutely is a quality of life jewel for us. How many communities our size have an amenity like it? Showing and discussing the marina is a vital part of our economic development presentation, along with the (Smith River) Sports Complex, Martinsville Speedway, the Dick and Willie Trail system and all of our outdoor opportunities. Prospects have to check off boxes on many items when they visit a community. When they see our quality-of-life opportunities, our chances of landing a company are improved,” he stated.
Rothrock said quality of life is important for visitors as well as area residents.
“From visitors to our area to residents of our communities, these are not only enjoyable amenities but also attractions that provide healthy opportunities for exercise and recreation,” she stated. “A vibrant community not only needs living wage jobs but also amenities that provide enjoyment for all.”
Rothrock is from Virginia Beach.
“For me, coming from a community that survived on quality of life attractions, I have always seen the untapped potential in our area. We have it all — the mountains, water, trails and plenty of open space, beautiful vistas, reasonable cost of living and climate, access to the arts and natural history, close proximity to major airports, etc. Combine that with living wage jobs and I think we are sitting on a jewel with people who love this place and want to see it thrive,” she said.
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