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A slick brown otter dodges playfully in amongst the clumps of wetland grasses and trees that anchor the Chickahominy River. Gradually, the forest thins as the river swells, giving way to wide open water rimmed with tupelo trees and bald cypress sinking their knees into the fertile water of Chickahominy Lake. The tree-lined shore and fish-filled water call great blue herons, osprey and snowy egrets, who in turn lure anglers, photographers and birdwatchers. The beautiful scenery of Chickahominy Lake in the Tidewater and Hampton Roads area of Virginia has been drawing visitors for almost seventy years, and the majestic Chickahominy River has been drawing people to it for centuries.
Chickahominy Lake was created in 1943 by the construction of Walker Dam. The dam, 22 miles above the mouth of the Chickahominy River, was built by the federal government to provide water for military bases as the country prepared for war. Today, the Chickahominy Reservoir, which sits on the New Kent and Charles City County line, provides the water supply for the Newport News Waterworks. It is also an excellent fishery and a popular recreation spot.
The water lilies, cypress and submerged vegetation provide great fish habitat, and the bluegill, black crappie, and chain pickerel are abundant. There are also bowfin, yellow perch and redear sunfish, and it's not uncommon for anglers to pull two- to four-pound largemouth bass out of Chickahominy Reservoir. Twin denil fish ladders in Walker Dam allow anadromous fish, like blueback herring and striped bass, to pass from the Chickahominy River and into the lake. The herring spawn in the lake and upriver, and anglers can catch and release the sea run striped bass.
With over 1,200 acres of water to explore, there is plenty of room on Chickahominy Lake for everyone. Access is through one public and two private boat launches. The public launch is at the New Kent Forestry Center on the north bank of Chickahominy Reservoir and is limited to groups with special permission to launch canoes and kayaks. Managed by the Virginia Department of Forestry, the New Kent Forestry Center raises trees to reforest harvested areas. A mile-long public wilderness trail winds through the forest, where visitors find descriptions of the trees and diverse ecosystems.
Chickahominy Lake meanders in a serpentine path nine miles south from Providence Forge to Walker Dam. It is really a pause on the Chickahominy River's journey to the James River and on to the Chesapeake Bay. Walker Dam is a three-foot high tidal barrier that prevents saltwater from flowing back into the lake. The area below the dam on the Chickahominy River is tidal, and water levels fluctuate according to the tides. In April of 2007 there was a breach in the dam at the manually-operated boat lock and Chickahominy Lake began to fluctuate with the tides. Water levels in the lake have been stabilized, but there are ongoing repairs to the dam and lock.
Chickahominy is the name of the native people that originally inhabited the area around Chickahominy Reservoir. Called "the coarse ground corn people," they lived in the area hundreds of years before the English settled Jamestown. They were also part of the group that captured Captain John Smith and delivered him to Chief Powhatan. The first national water trail in the United States, Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail was created in honor of the 400th anniversary of Smith's exploration of the Chesapeake and includes part of the Chickahominy River. Part of the river is also a designated State Scenic River, and it is a very popular place to canoe and kayak.
The area around Chickahominy Lake is rich with history and very near the Historic Triangle, which includes Jamestown, Yorktown, and Williamsburg. Established in 1607, Jamestown was a settlement of the Virginia Company of London. Williamsburg is often called the "birthplace of the nation," where many of the ideas that became the representative government started. Yorktown was an active international port and the place where General Cornwallis surrendered in a decisive victory in the War of Independence. All three sites have historic displays and interpreters and are a short drive from Chickahominy Lake.
After a long day on the water or exploring the surrounding area, visitors can stay in one of the area's many waterfront vacation rentals along the Chickahominy River. Private cottages, tent and RV campsites are also available. Real estate is available for sale in several riverfront communities.
Lured by the wildlife, fertile land and beauty, Captain John Smith came to explore the area around Chickahominy Lake 400 years ago. The beautiful Chickahominy River and Chickahominy Lake still call visitors to the area today, as the water flows on its way to the ocean.
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