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The Lake Down The Road

By Amy Brecount White
The Washington Post
Sunday, May 9, 1999; Page E10


WHAT/WHERE: For families who prefer romping in and on large bodies of fresh water, Lake Anna, the second-largest lake in Virginia, is just 90 minutes from the Beltway via I-95 south and along some country roads. Formed in 1972 when the North Anna River was dammed to provide a reservoir for the North Anna Nuclear Power Station, Lake Anna is a popular, nettle-free destination for fishing, boating and water-skiing. About a fourth of the 13,000-acre lake--known as the "hot side" to locals--is used to cool the reactor and is restricted to property owners. The rest of the lake, which disperses the warmed waters, welcomes vacationers. The lake boasts a booming bass population--crappie, walleye, perch and catfish also thrive there--and is a favorite site for fishing tournaments.


Two kinds of families will love low-key Lake Anna. First, if fishing floats your boat, you'll find abundant fun here. This is bass boat country, but the lake is also dotted with pontoon boats, jet skis and jon boats. Most of the five marinas rent boats and jet skis by the day or half-day. Reserve in advance; they go quickly.

Second, if you're a day-tripping family, Lake Anna provides an ideal base of operations, particularly if your exploration has a historical bent. You'll be less than an hour's drive from Kings Dominion, Monticello, Montpelier, Richmond, Charlottesville, Fredericksburg and lots of Civil War battlefields. You can take sky-diving lessons in nearby Louisa, sample chardonnay and merlot at the Lake Anna Winery (540-895-5085) or pop into the visitors center at the nuclear power plant. During the summer, Lake Anna State Park (540-854-5503) sponsors nature activities for kids and workshops on panning for gold.

BEING THERE: Despite its proximity to Northern Virginia, this is old-fashioned Virginia. When you order iced tea, the waitress asks, "Do you want that sweetened, honey?" Tacky T-shirt stores are scarce, as is saltwater taffy and miniature golf. Everyone's about as friendly as they could be, and the food is cheap. At Gene's Barbecue Express in the nearby hamlet of Mineral, you can get a full meal for a mere $4.98 per person; a large coffee (nothin' fancy) is 78 cents. Although Mineral is starting to realize its commercial possibilities, there are still only a handful of restaurants around. Most men wear baseball caps from dawn to dusk. And you won't have any trouble finding fresh, juicy night crawlers for your hooks.

Staying lakeside, you'll awaken early to the noisy hum of bass boats as lines of fishermen head out for a day's sport. A rented pontoon boat is a little more relaxing and offers a family space to spread out and explore the lake. With lots of fingerlets poking into the surrounding countryside, the lake offers many small coves to wile away the day and meditate on your undulating bobber. You can cruise around and admire the vacation homes--from near manors to cottages--along the 250 miles of shore. Drop a line in every now and then or let the kids cool off and splash around in a secluded cove, or check out the western reaches of the lake, which lap at the Blue Ridge foothills. When night falls, head to your balcony or porch to soak in the sunset, count the stars or listen for the slap of leaping fish.

Our boys (ages 5 1/2 and 4) adored the kids' fishing pond at Lake Anna State Park, where there's also a small beach (if you need a sand fix) with a concession stand in season, a playground and short hiking trails through the woods and along the lake.

LODGING/BUDGET: A family of four could spend a week at the Lighthouse Inn (540-895-5249,, a small, frills-free motel overlooking the lake and the boat slips of High Point Marina, and eat out every night for less than $1,000. Rooms include two double beds, a small refrigerator and a microwave. If you want a real kitchen and room for grandparents, private three-bedroom waterfront house rentals average $1,000 or more a week. Contact the Spotsylvania County Visitor Center (1-800-654-4118) for a list of realty agents who rent property and for other information on the area.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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