Mountain Lake

The lake rose in 2013 to reach a peak level on August 22, just slightly lower than the highest water levels in past seasons. Water level then dropped slowly reaching it’s lowest level in mid-December. Overall, the lake has retained water this past fall season indicating a positive outcome thus far from the water loss mitigation effort in winter 2013. The lake continues to rise in water level this spring. Geologists continue to monitor and observe the lake bottom and slopes, with underwater diving and observation scheduled for this coming summer season in 2014.

Read a Spring 2013 article on the Mountain Lake property renovations here, including the restoration effort to the lake.

Research on Mountain Lake

Recent years have revealed a pattern in the water level of Mountain Lake that was presumed to be a new phenomenon of water “draining” from this basin. Further study by researchers has uncovered what has proven to be an ancient pattern of cycles that leave the water level of Mountain Lake both “up” and “down” for extended periods of time. The reason has to do with how much water Mother Nature gives us in the form of rainfall.

Recent research projects on the lake and mountain geology include students and faculty from both Radford University and Virginia Tech. The studies conducted in conjunction with Radford’s Geology Department can be followed here.

Come to the Conservancy Cove located in the Spring House building to learn more about Mountain Lake, it’s cycles, and the surrounding ecosystem!


Research Papers:
Subterranean Loss and Gain of Water in Mountain Lake, Virginia: A Hydrologic Model

Martin Jansons
P.E., Peed & Bortz, L.L.C
Civil/Environmental Engineers,
20 Midway Plaza Drive Suite 100,
Christiansburg, VA, 24073, U.S.A.

Bruce C. Parker
Department of Biology,
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University,
Blacksburg, VA 24061, U.S.A.

Jacob E. Waller
Department of Biology,
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University,
Blacksburg, VA 24061, U.S.A.

Abstract:    Mountain Lake, Virginia is a small, unique, oligotrophic, subalpine ecosystem in the southern Appalachians. Previous studies have disclosed that this lake has manifested periodic prolonged low water levels during the several thousand years of its existence. The most recent low water level occurred during the drought years of 1999-2002. Measurements of lake level, precipitation, and other meteorological data including calculated evapotranspiration in the lake basin from 2/19/02 to 8/31/03 have enabled estimation of the net subterranean water losses presumably through cracks between Clinch sandstone boulders and/or the recently discovered deep hole at the northwest end of Mountain Lake. These net losses reflect the balance between total losses and any gains from springs and boulder cracks not quantified in this study. Scuba divers have documented the existence of these cracks and the deep hole. Subterranean net water losses of about 0.04-0.05 m3/s (634-792 gpm) apparently occur year-round.

A Review of Research Studies at Mountain Lake, Virginia
Authors:    Bruce C. Parker
Department of Biology,
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University,
Blacksburg, VA 24061, U.S.A.

Abstract:    Mountain Lake, Giles County, Virginia (37° 27′ 56”N, 80° 31’39”W) is the only natural lake of significance in the unglaciated highlands of the southern Appalachians . This oligotrophic montane lake located at 1181m (3875 ft) elevation near the summit of Salt Pond Mountain occupies a relatively small, undisturbed watershed which is about five times the surface area of the full lake. All surface outflow of water occurs at the northwest end into Pond Drain, then Little Stony Creek and the New River . Although Mountain Lake (or Salt Pond) has been known since its discovery by the British surveyor Christopher Gist in 1751 (Johnston, 1898), it remained free of published scientific studies until 1884. This first and many subsequent scientific studies of Mountain Lake are scattered widely among various journals, books, documents, and theses (often unpublished or obscure), making acquisition and compilation difficult. Yet this literature is relevant and often essential for future investigations, especially in the physical, chemical, and biological limnology, the geology, and the origin and paleohistory of Mountain Lake. Accordingly, a brief chronological review of the pertinent scientific literature on Mountain Lake with some previously unpublished new information form the author’s laboratory and field records are here included.