Pulaski County’s Claytor Lake had not been in existence very long before its potential as a recreational area was realized. Just four years after it’s dedication, area business leaders were already thinking about the possibility of creating a state park in the county. In the years since its humble beginning, Claytor Lake State Park has grown into one of the most used such facility in the state.
The originator of the idea of a state park was R. G. Stevens, a retired coal mine operator and business man of Radford. He was elected president of the Radford Chamber of Commerce in 1943, and soon after that he launched a campaign for the establishment of the park. The idea became popular throughout the New River Valley, and the Pulaski Chamber of Commerce joined Radford in the campaign. Soon Wytheville, Roanoke, Pearisburg, Narrows, Bluefield, Blacksburg, Christiansburg, and Dublin joined the effort. Two members from each community were selected to form a committee with Stevens as chairman. The main purpose was to promote the establishment of the park, and also to promote tourism throughout the valley.
In 1946, Governor Tuck, along with other state officials, legislators, and a large group of interested citizens, attended a meeting at Stevens lakeshore residence to promote Claytor Lake State Park. They took a boating tour of the lake, and enjoyed a barbecue luncheon.
In 1947, the late John B. Spiers introduced a bill in the State House of Delegates to establish a state park. Ted Dalton co-sponsored the bill when it went to the Senate. It was approved and $10,000 was appropriated for the project.
In late 1947 the state accepted a donation of 320 acres from Appalachian Power Co. for the state park, with the stipulation that an adjacent 117 acres would have to be acquired from the Daniel Howe family, at a price of $250 per acre.
The historical Howe House is now used as the business center of the park, and contains many exhibits and artifacts pertaining to the area.
The park was dedicated on May 29, 1948. Unfortunately the State had no funds available to operate it, so Stevens volunteered to become Ex Officio State Park Superintendent, and operated the park for the committee during the 1948 and 50 vacation seasons. Facilities at that time consisted of a small picnic area, and a makeshift bathing beach.
In 1950, Delegate Marvin Graham of Pulaski and Bentley Hite of Christiansburg, and a boat dock, secured appropriations of $25,000 to be build restrooms near the boat dock, and a small picnic shelter, along with $65,000 to build 12 housekeeping cabins.
In 1950 Ben Bolen was Assistant Resident Engineer for the highway department. One morning in June, he noticed an article in the newspaper, stating that the commonwealth planned to develop a state park on Claytor Lake. Being a native of Hillsville and having spent time fishing and boating on the lake, he decided to explore the idea of seeking the position of Park Superintendent. He contacted the commissioner of parks, and secured a transfer to the State Conservation Commission, and became Superintendent of Claytor Lake State Park. Under his leadership, the park continued to move forward.
-Lloyd Mathews is a retired land surveyor and a historian who lives in Pulaski