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Closing of Philpott Lake interrupts visitors' plans
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Larry Turpin of Floyd drove 25 miles to do some bass fishing on Philpott Lake, only to find that all the boat ramps-- and the lake itself--were closed due to the partial government shutdown. (Bulletin photo by Ben R. Williams)

Sunday, October 13, 2013

By BEN R. WILLIAMS - Bulletin Staff Writer

Larry Turpin just wanted to go bass fishing.

Turpin, who lives in Floyd, hooked his bass boat to his pickup Friday morning and drove 25 miles to the Ryans Branch Park boat ramp at Philpott Lake, just past Union Bridge on the Franklin County side.

“I actually got off from work a little early today just to do this,” Turpin said.

As it turns out, he could have finished his shift.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ recreational park at Philpott Lake closed to visitors at 8 p.m. Thursday as a result of the partial government shutdown, and all boat ramps to the lake have been closed, said Craig “Rocky” Rockwell, operations project manager at Philpott Lake.

Turpin didn’t mince words when it came to his opinion on the shutdown.

“I think it sucks,” Turpin laughed. “I’m very disappointed. Philpott is my favorite place to fish. It’s the closest one for me.”

Turpin said both political parties bear some responsibility for the shutdown, although in his opinion, the congressional Republicans deserve most of the blame.

“I’m sure it will affect my vote” in upcoming elections, he said.

Harry Shelton and Jane Shelton shared a similar opinion. The Sheltons enjoy walking together near Philpott Dam each morning, they said.

“We go out and walk around the circles,” Harry Shelton said. “We walk the trails.”

Although the trails remain open to visitors, the Sheltons still are disappointed by the park’s closure.

“I think it’s a shame that they do that to us,” Harry Shelton said of Congress. “They’re just playing politics, playing games at our expense.”

He said that in his opinion, both parties are to blame for the shutdown.

“We’ll think carefully about we who vote for next time,” Jane Shelton said.

According to Rockwell, there are roughly 230 campsites around the lake, and all of them are closed to visitors. Rockwell estimated that about 40 people were forced to leave their campgrounds over the weekend or cancel their plans to camp.

However, he said, the real toll of the shutdown could end up being higher.

“Who knows by the time it’s all done?” Rockwell said. “I anticipate that when we open back up, our season will already be impacted. Everybody will have made plans for something else.”

Because there is no clear answer to when the shutdown will end and Philpott will reopen, he said, campers who might have made plans to visit Philpott in the coming weeks may decide that it’s safer to cancel their vacations or go somewhere else.

The lake closing has led to some tough decisions, Rockwell said. Initially, there was hope that some of the more remote areas of the lake that normally remain open year-round, such as Ryans Branch Park, could remain open during the shutdown. However, he said, that presented liability issues.

“It’s a much more litigious society now,” Rockwell said. “That was a huge part of our decision. We can’t do anything that will cost — or could cost — the federal government money.”

“It’s a tough thing to do,” he added. “We’ve got a team of people that are bent on public service. It’s really hard to say, ‘I’m sorry, we just have to lock the gate.’”

There still were a few options open to campers who had their hearts set on a weekend in the woods. Fairy Stone State Park remains open. As a state park, it is not affected by the federal shutdown.

On Friday morning, Fairy Stone chief ranger Kevin Cox said the campgrounds had been booked solid for the weekend, but phone calls from visitors wanting to make reservations still were pouring in.

“It’s a little early to tell” how much the Philpott Lake closing will affect Fairy Stone’s business, Cox said.

Because of the changing leaves, October is a busy time for tourism at Fairy Stone. Cox said it was difficult to determine whether the campgrounds would have been booked this weekend had the Philpott closing not occurred.

Cox added that Fairy Stone has seen a substantial number of campers from the Blue Ridge Parkway since the parkway’s facilities closed on Oct. 1, the first day of the government shutdown.

While the Philpott closing is a pain for campers and fishermen such as Turpin, it could also affect area businesses that rely on visitors to the lake, Turpin noted.

“There aren’t too many stores between here and (Floyd), but there’s one I always stop at,” he said. “I’m sure they’re hurting.”

A local loss in revenue may be a gain for other areas, however.

“I’ll probably head on down to Smith Mountain (Lake State Park),” Turpin said. “I assume it’s open.”


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