There are more than 200 channel markers and buoys currently on Smith Mountain Lake. The markers serve an invaluable function of directing boaters where they need to go as well as warning them of danger. A light out on a channel marker at night or a missing shoal marker could be disastrous for a boater.
A group of dedicated lake residents have taken on the task of making sure these critical markers remain in place and operational to keep boaters on the lake safe. These volunteers participate in the Tri-County Lake Administrative Commission’s long-running Adopt-a-Light and Adopt-a-Buoy program.
The program was created in 1996 as a way for TLAC to keep a watchful eye on the lake’s channel markers and buoys. With more than 200 markers along the lake’s 500 miles of shoreline, it would be impossible for TLAC to regularly inspect each one on their own.
“They are really essential,” Kristina Sage, executive director of TLAC, said of the dozens of current volunteers that participate in the program. She is also actively seeking several more to keep an eye on the countless unadopted markers around the lake.
If a volunteer notice anything wrong, they are asked to call TLAC who will send someone out to repair the marker if it is TLAC owned. For those markers owned by Appalachian Power, TLAC contacts the company to request the repairs.
Longtime Adopt-a-Light volunteer Stan Strong looks out his window almost nightly to make sure channel markers B4, B6, B8, B8A, BU1 and BU3 are still operating. He has a tradition of counting the lights of each of the channel markers.
“B8 has been a nemesis of mine for years,” Strong said due to it being slightly dimmer than the rest of the lights and harder to detect.
Strong first learned about the program in a newspaper article he read shortly after moving to the lake in 2001. Since then, he has kept a watchful eye on the channel markers. He admitted to having concerns when taking trips and not being able to check on the channel markers for an extended amount of time.
Strong said he has seen the importance of the channel marker lights for himself while maneuvering around the lake by boat at night. He said one light out at a critical spot on the lake could lead to a boater heading in the wrong direction or getting lost completely.
While keeping an eye on the markers is important, it is rarely eventful. “Sometimes you might go a year or so without anything to report,” Strong said.
Sage said TLAC receives around one or two calls for one of the lake’s 153 channel marker lights being out each month and in need of repair. The calls come from program volunteers as well as boaters and other residents who may notice the damage in passing.
Over the years the channel marker lights have been upgraded to solar-powered units that require little maintenance. All that is needed is a decent amount of sunshine most days.
In addition to the channel markers lighting the way for boaters at night, the lake’s buoys help to keep boaters out of dangerous areas. There are more than 60 buoys on the lake warning of shoals or rocks.
Before the buoys were put in place, Thurmond said her neighborhood would put up signs warning of the danger. She said the buoys are able to do the job now. She just makes sure they stay in place and are undamaged.
“It’s easy for me,” Thurmond said. “They are all right here.”
Currently only about half of the channel markers and buoys have been adopted on the lake. Sage said many of those in the upper channels of the lake are still in need of adoption. Sage encouraged anyone who is willing and able to keep a look out on a marker to volunteer in the program.
Anyone interested in participating in the Adopt-a-Light or Adopt-a-Buoy program can contact TLAC at 540-721-4400.
Beaverdam Creek: BE4 and BE5
Blackwater River: B9, B13, B14, B16, B18, B21A, B30A, B31Z, B32, B33, B34, B37, B40, B41, B45, B46 and B49
Craddock Creek: C1, C2A and C6
Gills Creek: G1, G2 and G4
Roanoke River: R1, R2, R6, R8, R11A, R13, R17, R18, R21A, R24, R25, R28, R30, R39, R41, R42, R58A, R61, R65, R65A, R68, R70, R73, R74, R75, R75A, R76, R77, R78, R79, R80, R81, R83, R85 and R87
Witcher’s Creek: WC1
Blackwater River: S020 (near B11), S022 (near B23), S028 (near B4), S037 (near B10A), FF (near B13) and EE (near B8A)
Roanoke River: S002 (near R6), S006 (near R15), S023 (near R11), S029 (near R16), S029A (near R14), S040 (near R85), S041 (near R87), S042 (near R87), S050 (near R6), S051 (near R6), S054 (near R12), P (near R11), AAA (near R11), Q (near R11), W (near R26), DD (near R6), JJ (near R27A), KK (near R27A), X (near R27A), BB (near R6), AA (near R6), F (near R6), R (near R11), S (near R11A), BBB (near R11), Z (near R11), CC (near R6), T (near R15) and Y (near R27A)