Mill creek lake

In this April 2017 photo, mist rises from Mill Creek Lake. The Amherst County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 to open the lake to swimming while restricting boating and fishing within an area designated for swimming.

AMHERST - Public swimming may soon be on its way to Mill Creek Lake Park in northwestern Amherst County.

The board of supervisors voted last week to hold a public hearing on a proposal to open the lake at 238 Mill Creek Road to public swimming.

Sara Lu Christian, director of recreation and parks, said Mill Creek Lake has been checked out for depth and hidden obstacles and an area there has been determined to be conducive to swimming. If approved, signage would be placed to say visitors are swimming at their own risk without a lifeguard present.

The lake is a source of drinking water for the town of Amherst. The county has met with the town about the potential measure, Christian said. The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries also has been consulted and has no objections but notes swimming could take away from fishermen who have the lake and two other county-owned lakes mostly to themselves. Christian said only having swimming at one lake would be a compromise of sorts.

Christian said a buffer area would be prepared if swimming is allowed and pointed to it as a possible recreational opportunity that could give residents a place to go without having to pay a fee.

Mike Bryant, a Madison Heights resident and member of the Amherst County Planning Commission, said he grew up on the James River and is a self-described “river rat.”

“I’m very much in favor of anything we can do to add more activities to the county,” Bryant said during a public comments portion of the board’s June 18 meeting.

He said he takes his two young children fishing.

“More often than not they end up in the water,” Bryant said. “Having a park to take them swimming and fishing at the same time will be very beneficial.”

He would like to see public swimming eventually become a feature at Monacan Park in Madison Heights and said he thinks it could generate more activity there.

Bill Peters, a county resident, noted Mill Creek Lake Park has a limited amount of parking available and asked how public swimming would be accommodated with limited space.

Plans are being discussed to have paddle boarding events and activities at Mill Creek Lake for July in recognition of Parks and Recreation Month, which the board recently designated, according to a staff report before supervisors last week.

A public hearing on the swimming proposal is planned for the board’s 7 p.m. meeting July 16.

“We definitely have to address parking there,” Chairman Jimmy Ayers said.

County Administrator Dean Rodgers said the property has space where parking can be extended and if approved the county plans to add a sand area and work toward a smooth transition with public swimming.

The entire lake would be open for swimming, Rodgers said, but the purpose of establishing a specific swimming area is so fishermen and boaters will know there is an area they can’t access if the measure is passed.

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Reach Justin Faulconer at (434) 385-5551.

Contact Justin Faulconer at (434) 385-5551 or jfaulconer@newsadvance.com.

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