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One thing to avoid at Blackwater Falls State Park

Blackwater Falls has become one of our absolute favorite destinations in the area. The park offers so many wonderful things to do like observing the cascading falls, listening to the babbling noise of the streams, feeling the gravel and the wooden planks that make up the many trails, or just appreciate the mountain grandeur from their lookout points.  Another of those special places waiting for discovery is Pendleton Lake. But unless you are a world class cyclist or a masochist, I recommend that you take a pass on their paddle boats.

I expected for an experience like this to happen sooner or later and quite frankly I am excited to relay a story that includes a few warts. With Jamie’s son visiting us, we decided it would be a good time to take up one of the area’s lesser known activities. This modest recreational body of water named Pendleton Lake offers something other than majestic hills and panoramic outlooks and hiking trails.

A wonderful beginning was short lived

Our excitement level mounted to a fever pitch as we arrived and watched a large, happy family run out to the lake. They tossed their kayaks into the water and bound away laughing and splashing one another, fully and totally enjoying themselves. The day felt warm and the water splashed cool as they became wet, but it did not deter their enjoyment. We hurriedly made our way to the lake’s rental office. There to greet us was the standard blank stare of the 'I hate my summer job' kid.

“We have never been here before and we are excited to get on the lake. What can we do?” I asked.

“We’ve got kayaks, paddle boats and paddle boards,” was the mumbled reply.

Anxious to get going, I say, “We’ll take three kayaks.”

“All our kayaks are already being rented.” His flat response awakened school memories of kids in the back row being forced to read aloud in class.

Having the rug pulled out from under me, I began anew. I remembered back to a day once when Jamie mentioned to me the she thought a paddle boat ride would be fun. I also envisioned myself trying to balance on top of a plastic ironing board in the water with a paddle in one hand and my camera in the other, and I figured things could go bad very quickly.

“Three for paddle boats then, “I said, as I opened my wallet.

“One hour or half an hour?” he asks. But before I had a chance to reply he decided that one half an hour would be enough for us. In hindsight, at this point I should have picked up on this cue and rethought our outing. Unfortunately we blindly paid, donned our life jackets, and headed for the docks.

Our Trusty Vessel

Now, I am a big guy and I am used to things like tight seating at baseball stadiums and metro systems, but whoever designed paddle boats obviously had no intention for an adult to sit in one. Most certainly this includes someone my size with a six inch padded floatation device added. I shoe-horned myself into the seat and before I manage to wedge my size 13-4E feet onto the tortuous machine’s pedals, the boat’s floor immediately fills with two inches of water.

“Don’t worry about the water in the floor. The holes keeps the boat level!” our helpful attendant offered as Jamie and Nate boarded. Then he added, “And the boat goes faster when you paddle backward.” With this, he left us to brave the lake for ourselves.

Negotiating the Waters

When I say that we slowly peddled our way into the center of the lake, I mean we fought and clawed for every inch with each push becoming more difficult than the last.  It quickly dawned on both Nate and I that we were in for it.  Jamie meanwhile happily sat in the back (which turned out to be the front as the attendant's "peddle backward" advice did seem to have merit) and enjoyed the views her freeloading seat afforded.  Shortly after departing she aided us with warnings of impending doom just before we would careen into river banks, brush and the oncoming kayakers.  Steering the boat turned out to be the only thing harder than propelling the boat.  Extended straight stretches were nearly impossible as the boat wanted to be either in a hard left turn or an equally hard right turn.  To compound frustrations, changing from a left to right hand turn exhausted even more of our rapidly dwindling energy levels.  While we miserably circled the center of the lake, we watched with low envy as the happy kayak family passed us yet again.

The air turned muggy and the summer sun beat down on us as we pedaled on.  Our drunken path did finally take us to one end of the lake marked by a disused, cut stone train archway. During this respite I re-evaluated my situation.  My life jacket kept me in a constant hunch between my seat and my knees, restrained my breathing and ensured that no air could cool my sweaty body.  I looked into the water to discover that the lake was a mere twelve inches to its floor.  With the realization that I could actually lay down in the lake and my nose would still break the surface, I ripped the jacket off and reveled in my new found personal space.

We completed our weaving loop back to the dock on burning legs.  Since the attendant was nowhere to be found, we taught ourselves how to dock a paddle boat and deposited our life jackets.  When we exited we discovered why the attendant couldn't be bothered with helping us dock the boat.  It turned out he was too busy taking a nap in the office.  Oh, to be 19 again... 

Ending Thoughts

Pendleton Lake presents a beautiful little amenity in the park and definitely warrants a visit.  The lake's immediate surroundings offer picnic areas, a basketball court, a volleyball pit and a discovery center staffed by park rangers.  I offer this advice if you would like the best experience for the lake:

1.  Rent the kayaks!

2.  If all of the kayaks are rented, find out when they will be coming back.

3.  Have lunch at the shore, play a little ball, and tour the discovery center.

4.  Rent the kayaks!


14 miles from Golden Anchor Cabins

Open from Memorial Day to Labor Day

10 AM to 6 PM

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- Daniel