ETW: Fairy Stone

Submitted by Joe Baraty

Joe Baraty cools off with his dog in Philpott Lake at Fairy Stone Park.

It’s fast approaching, fellow wildlife adventurers. You know what I’m talking about … that moment in our region’s weather when we briefly experience perfection. Those days when the daytime delivers ideal warmth, and the evenings drop to that perfect chill. In Franklin County we usually are blessed sometime between mid- and late September. A not-too-balmy 80-degree afternoon and a delightful mid-50-degree evening is perfection.

On days such as this, we outdoor adventurers are allowed a rare opportunity to enjoy every one of our favorite activities all in the same day without having to battle the elements. The daytime water temps are still just warm enough to bathe in. The crisp evening air lets you finish the day off with a comfy campfire. You can bike or hike to your delight and barely break a sweat. The fish are biting, and all of wildlife actively celebrates the change in season. It doesn’t get any better.

Now if we could only enjoy this full medley of outdoor activities at one perfect location … that would be something. Oh, but we can in Franklin County. We have our wildlife utopia just down the road at Fairy Stone State Park.

When I first began to draft a list of the places I would write about in my article, I seriously considered leaving Fairy Stone off the list. My concern was that I had nothing at all new or interesting to talk about. There is the very real possibility that each and every person who resides in Franklin County has visited the park already, and for most, they have done so many times over. But maybe that is exactly why it deserves to be written about, not so much to entice new visitors, but to collectively celebrate the privilege of having it.

Fairy Stone celebrated its 83rd birthday this past June, making it one of the six oldest state parks in Virginia. These were the original six that were given birth simultaneously through Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps that helped the country maneuver through the Depression years. The park’s land was donated in 1933 by Junius B. Fishburn, former president of the Southwest Virginia Trust Co. and former owner of The Roanoke Times. The park is 4,741 acres, making it the largest of the six original parks and one of the largest to this day. With its massive size and the beautiful 168-acre lake that spills into Philpott Lake, Fairy Stone truly has everything the wildlife adventurer could hope for.

My personal experiences with Fairy Stone began nearly 30 years ago when my dear old friend, John Hollandsworth, introduced me to the park. John would tell me about his years as a high school student back in the 1960s working summers at the park’s facilities. He shared much of the rich history of the park with me. He even told me of all the ridiculously dangerous things he and his friends would do in canoes down at the spillway dam. I soon fell in love with the park and quickly began to build my own extensive memories of it.

There is nothing at Fairy Stone that I have not fully experienced. I’ve enjoyed all 14 miles of trails, some on foot and others on bike. I’ve swam, fished and canoed the waters. I have seen Fairy Stone adorned in the colors of all four seasons and enjoyed the group accommodations in the spacious lodge and the charming conference center.

My favorite memories, though, have been of those early mornings after a perfect restful sleep in one of the lakeside cabins. Enjoying the sun rising across the lake before the world awakens. Slipping into my kayak and drifting across the mirror of still water to the sound of serenity. I believe I just talked myself into another weekend getaway.

Yes, that perfect weather is on its way. But the truth of the matter is, you don’t need a perfect September day to enjoy all that this grand old lady has to offer. If you’ve never been to Fairy Stone … well, I can’t fathom that as even being possible, but please wake up and go.

If you need more information on this “wild gem” you can go to www.dcr.virginia.gov/state-parks/fairy-stone or just ask your neighbor. I’m sure they’ve been there many times.

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