It's difficult to imagine southern West Virginia without one of its most picturesque lakes, but just 40 years ago, the R. D. Bailey Lake in Hanover, West Virginia, didn't exist.
In 1980, the lake was constructed to protect communities downstream of the Guyandotte River, which flows from the small community of Justice to the metropolis of Huntington.
Of the 19,000 acres, the lake itself spans 630 acres, and 17,000 acres are licensed as a wildlife management area to the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources for hunting and fishing. Since it opened, the R.D. Bailey Lake and wildlife management area has been a haven for outdoor activities.
Brian Morgan, resource manager of the R.D. Bailey Lake, said each detail and amenity of the area was constructed mindfully.
"We have a marvelous campground with 94 sites," Morgan said. "Each site was developed and constructed in a way that they only took what they needed. A lot of other campgrounds are clear cut with sowed grass, but here, there's vegetation between sites and over top of sites."
Situated in the lush greenery with one way in and out of the area, Morgan said the quiet, rural location was part of the appeal.
"The main access is on an old railroad, and there's one way in and one way out," Morgan said. "Campers and visitors alike feel more secure letting their kids run and play than they would in an open campground."
The lake, with its average depth of 50 to 80 feet, is also home to the state record spotted bass and provides ample opportunities for fishing and recreational kayaking and canoeing. With multiple public access points, the lake has become a popular place for floating from one location to the next.
"People park in the Horse Creek Lake area, and you can put the canoe and kayak in and float to the end of the campground, which is a takeout point and it's where the river meets the lake," Morgan said. "At the end of the day, they get in their second vehicle [at the campground], pick up their first vehicle and then go home."
Cycling is also a prime attraction of the R.D. Bailey Lake, where six miles of bike trails lead cyclists through the scenic region, Morgan said. Even after the lake closes after Labor Day, cyclists still take advantage of the route.
Additionally, picnic shelters are available for rental for community events and reunions.
Morgan said the lake, which cost approximately $180 million to complete, had prevented nearly $500 million in flood damage as of July 2019.
"We've had people who have lived in this area [for years] stop by and walk around, and they're like, 'Wow, I never knew this type of view was here,'" Morgan said.