Friends of Smith Mountain Lake State Park
Saturday, November 18, 2017

Tour Boat

 Pontoon Boat Tours in Full Operation
 
There are two types of tours.  They start at 9:30 a.m. and finish at 11:00 a.m. On Tuesdays you will ride with the ranger as you experience the shores of Smith Mountain Lake State Park while keeping a lookout for waterfowl and other natural lake residents. There are several stops to take in the scenery and photo opportunities.  On Thursdays you will ride with the ranger along the shores of the State Park. You will learn the history of the lake, how it was created and the origin of the State Park.  There are several stops to take in the scenery and photo opportunities. 
 
All trips are at no cost to the passengers although the usual parking fees apply.  Life vests will be provided by the park and must be worn at all times. Water and sunscreen are recommended. Meet at the boat ramp between the bath house and fishing tournament building. You must be present for the safety briefing at 9:25 a.m. in order to board the vessel. Space is limited. Pre-registration is required at the visitor center. Call 540-297-6066. Unfortunately, pets are not allowed aboard the boat. The tours are scheduled through September.

 

 

 “Our Ship Has Come In"

(August 2014)

The park’s new Tour Boat, arriving at the Contact Station at Smith Mountain Lake State Park.

The Tour Boat measures 30 ft. long and 10 ft. wide requiring an “Over Size Load” sign as it traveled from Florida, where it was custom built, to Smith Mountain Lake State Park.  Every state the boat was transported through required a permit which allowed travel only during the daylight hours.

Since the Friends incorporated in 1996, they and Park Manager Brian Heft recognized the need for a tour boat to get people out on the water.  It was recognized that many park visitors did not have the means to rent or operate a boat.  Friends members would help by taking groups of children out with a park Interpreter for educational trips.  In 1999 the park staff obtained an estimate for a 25 passenger pontoon boat at a cost of $50,000.  Funds were not available.  During August 2002, the Friends contacted a local boat builder who offered to build the boat at the same price.  Again funds could not be raised.

  

In February, 2012, a pilot program was conceived to assess public interest in interpretive boat tours.  The once a week program was offered to the public using a loaned pontoon boat with a rider capacity of 10.  The park staff was responsible for boat maintenance.  The park Interpreter put together an informative program, and the Friends volunteered the Captains.  The program was offered during the summers of 2012 and 2013 and was very popular.  There were no fees for the tour. 

 

With the success of the program, a boat was designed to serve the future needs of the park.  It measures 30 ft. by 10 ft. and designed to accommodate 22 passengers including a Captain and Interpreter.  It has three oversized (28”) hulls for added safety and stability.  A 115 horse 4 stroke Mercury motor.  It is also equipped with two wheel chair tie-downs and a fold out wheel chair ramp.  It has enough room to open 6 ft. tables for education and display purposes and a full hard top covering all passengers.  It will be completely outfitted with appropriate safety equipment including life jackets of various sizes.  A specifically designed trailer was included along with a full mooring cover.  The cost of the boat, trailer and transportation from Florida to Huddleston was about $62,000.  This was an enormous amount of money to be raised, especially since the Friends do not have fund raising programs.  All members agreed that we should make an attempt in spite of the odds.  At least we could say we tried.  Our first surprise was in February 2013 when we received a donation from American Electric Power (AEP) for $25,000.  The Friends organization donated $8,000.  The Friends members also made personal donations.  Then a contribution was received from local resident Sandra Via for $20,000, followed by former local residents Bruce and Jan Cooke for $5,000.  Added together with donations from other citizens who wanted to help our cause, we were able to raise the necessary funds, and an order for the boat was placed in April 2014. 

 

The boat has recently arrived and is currently being outfitted with safety equipment, signage and registration.

  

Some of the uses envisioned for the new boat are:

 

·         Offer interpretive boat tours to the public to enhance riders understanding of the lake, nature and the environment.

·         Offer lake access to park visitors who are unable to rent or operate a boat.

·         Special educational programs for area schools to help with SOL curriculum.

·         Conduct tours for Youth Conservation Corps volunteers.

·         Offer a link to the Franklin County Park for selected programs.

·         Programs for disabled and wounded American veterans.

·         Programs for other groups who do not have lake access such as the Elks Home.

·         All boat programs are at no cost to the passengers.

 

 

On October 11, 2014 the boat was officially turned over to the State Park in a dedication ceremony.