RD bailey

Photo courtesy of R.D. Bailey Lake staff

Every fall, officials at R.D. Bailey Lake slowly “draw down” the lake to winter pool, or an elevation of 1,012.5 feet — a drop of 23 feet from the summer pool, according to Brian Morgan, project supervisor. “This provides the lake a greater storage capacity through the winter and into spring,” Morgan explained. During the summer, the plant life is alive and growing and using water soaked into the ground. In the winter, many times the ground is frozen, plants have died off or become dormant which allows more water to run off into the lake. Additionally, the snow pack eventually melts and runs off into the lake. Spring also brings more rain showers. Thus, there is a need for more storage capacity, Morgan emphasized. The water is also released slowly to protect the aquatic life, allowing the fish and other life to move deeper as the lake drops. Also as the shoreline comes into view and out of the water, the bank in many places around the lake is steep and the ground needs to dry out some. If the entire bank that had been under water was rapidly exposed, there would be several slides similar to mudslides. It also allows boaters time to adjust to hazards or obstacles that weren’t previously exposed, Morgan said.

For five years, Brian Morgan of Oceana has served as the project supervisor at R.D. Bailey Lake. He began his career there as a Co-Op Student in 1998 while attending college.

In the 20 years since, he has witnessed multiple historic flood events and has become an energetic proponent of the lake and surrounding project area.

Question: How long have you worked at R.D. Bailey Lake?

Answer: This is my 20th year working at R.D. Bailey Lake (RDB).

I was 31 years old when I started here and my wife and I were expecting our first child. We moved in with her parents while I attended Marshall University to obtain my master’s degree. I drove back and forth from R.D. Bailey to Huntington for two years.

Once I graduated, I applied and was selected for Seasonal Ranger, a 10-month position, and was later selected for a full-time Ranger position.

I spent the next 15 years as a Ranger here at RDB and, during those years, I completed several developmental assignments as a Resource Manager – two at Bluestone Lake, one at Summerville Lake, and one here at RDB.

During this time, I also volunteered to assist FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) with disaster missions in Ohio and West Virginia.

I would also volunteer to assist other U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Projects within the Huntington District experiencing high water events that needed additional staffing to effectively deal with those events.

I have very much enjoyed my career with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is a global organization. You can advance your career and travel the world, but I have chosen to stay right here.

Question: The lake was constructed as a flood control project; how much money has it saved to date in flood damages? What areas does the lake protect from flooding?

Answer: The RDB Project cost $180 million to build and has prevented $400 million in flood damage.

The R.D. Bailey Dam helps reduce flooding along the Guyandotte River to the communities of Justice, Gilbert, Man, Logan, Chapmanville, West Hamlin, Barboursville and Huntington.

The RDB pool of record was a result of the National Weather Service predicting that the Ohio River would exceed flood stage in Huntington in March 2015.

RDB reduced our outflow to minimum flow for three days and the lake rose to an elevation of 1,114.65 above sea level. That was over 102 vertical feet in rise. RDB only utilized 51 percent of its storage capacity. RDB is designed to hold 28 inches of rainfall within a 72-hour period.

In my 20 years here at RDB, I have witnessed seven of the top 10 flood events.

Being a victim of the 2001 flood myself, operating the dam during these times and ensuring others don’t have to endure that hardship, gives me a sense of pride and accomplishment like no other.

Question: How much of a tourist attraction do you believe the lake is?

Answer: RDB has over 500,000 visitors annually and attracts a wide variety of visitors because we offer such a diverse setting of outdoor recreation. From boating, camping, picnicking, sightseeing, bicycling, walking, hunting and fishing, there is something for everyone of all ages to do at RDB.

People visit RDB for a myriad of reasons. Many return to the area for family, church, high school and other reunions.

The R.D. Bailey Visitor Center has hosted many weddings and sees visitors utilizing the landscape as a background for prom and senior portraits alike.

The view from the deck at the Visitor Center is worth the trip alone.

From time to time, RDB will see visitors return who actually helped build the dam. I recently gave a tour to a former project engineer who transferred just before RDB was completed, and he had always wanted to return to see the final product.

RDB has seen an increase of visitation associated with the Hatfield-McCoy Trail and, more recently, an increase in persons coming to the lake for kayaking.

Question: What about the hunting, is it a big attraction? Do a lot of hunters visit the project area?

Answer: There are roughly 19,000 acres here at RDB and 17,280 acres of that is leased to the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources for wildlife management.

RDB is a huge attraction to bow hunters due to the lower four counties of the state (Logan, Mingo, McDowell and Wyoming) being closed to firearm season for whitetail deer.

RDB is the second largest wildlife management area to offer in these four counties; Berwind Lake has an 18,000-acre wildlife management area.

We see many hunters in the fall that make RDB their destination. Many of them are from out-of-state and travel as far away as North Carolina and Illinois.

The RDB bear population is increasing and we are starting to see more hunters on the WMA for this opportunity.

Turkey, rabbit, grouse and other small game is abundant throughout.

Question: What about the campground, does it stay busy throughout the season it is open?

Answer: Campers are lined up at the gate opening day for the main Guyandotte Campground to open shortly before Memorial Day weekend and the campground stays busy through Independence Day weekend. Campground occupation begins to slowly decrease through the remainder of July.

With the increase of heat and humidity, coupled with the beginning of football, band and cheerleading practice that begins around the first of August, we see an occupancy rate of around 25 percent through the remainder of the camping season which ends Labor Day weekend for the main campground.

During the fall, winter and spring seasons, RDB offers camping in our Primitive Camping Area that has 12 sites and a Port-A-John that serves campers during this time.

The Guyandotte Campground main road is six miles long and is very popular during the fall, winter (on warmer days) and spring for bicyclist and walkers when we have the main gate closed to vehicular traffic.

Question: What do you believe the most popular feature is – the lake, the hunting, the picnicking areas, the hiking, something else?

Answer: RDB attracts different types of visitors throughout the year. Fall and winter, RDB is popular for hunting, fall colors, hiking, bicycling and fishing.

In spring, we see a large increase in fishing just before we raise the lake from winter pool (1012 m.s.l.) back to summer pool (1035.00 m.s.l.).

Trout fishermen are drawn to the Clearfork River portion of the project and the Below Dam Recreation Area when trout stocking season begins.

During the summer season, RDB sees visitors participate in camping, boating, kayaking, fishing picnicking, bicycling and most other outdoor type recreation activities.

Question: Are there any plans to add anything at the lake or on the project area?

Answer: RDB has remodeled the restrooms at Guyandotte Point and Big Branch Recreation Areas and updated all of our playgrounds within recent years.

RDB is updating our drinking water storage tanks and filtration system.

RDB is ever-willing to partner with county, state, federal or private organizations to expand or enhance outdoor opportunities for our visitors.

Question: Anything you want to add?

Answer: I truly feel southern West Virginia is blessed with an abundance of outdoor opportunities, including lakes, state parks, golf courses, race tracks, ATV trails, streams, trails and paths throughout our mountains and mountaintops that offer breathtaking views.

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