Imagine a history of summers in the South, and you may picture front porches lined with rocking chairs, farmers proudly tending to their fields, and children splashing in lakes and streams. Fast-forward to today and you’ll find that these traditions have disappeared in many places, but not in Mecklenburg County, Va.
Located south of Richmond and north of Raleigh, N.C., Mecklenburg is celebrating its 250th anniversary this year. And while rich in history, the area is undergoing a resurgence in tourism that makes it ideal for visitors of all ages.
“While most people weren’t looking, our region has quietly developed a great, unique character that appeals to a broad array of family vacationers and adventurous explorers alike,” said Justin Kerns, who promotes the county. “Totally disconnected experiences on the largest bodies of water in Virginia are juxtaposed with some real dining and shopping gems in these small, authentic towns.”
By land or by lake
To have the most authentic experience, it’s best to do as the locals do — and the locals love to get out on the water. The region is home to the Southern Virginia Wild Blueway, consisting of three rivers — Dan, Staunton, and Banister — and two lakes — Kerr Lake, also known as Buggs Island Lake, and Lake Gaston — spanning Mecklenburg and Halifax counties. (sovawildblueway.com)
There are plenty of outfitters to provide everything you’ll need to splash into some fun, so spend a morning paddling along the river, zooming across the lake on a boat or wave runner, or gliding over waves on water skis or a wakeboard. You may enjoy simply spreading out a beach towel and watching the kids splash around with no fear of getting knocked down by harsh waves.
Whether you’re a novice fisher or an experienced angler, you’ll enjoy a guided fishing tour with BassMaster Elite Pro Rick Morris. Morris picks clients up from their dock and provides them with high-quality tournament gear and tackle. Then it’s an exciting half- or full-day excursion, while gaining insider tips and techniques that Morris has learned during his 22 years as a bass pro. He spends a lot of time on Kerr Lake and Lake Gaston, noting that the water is clean and pristine. The lakes are swimming with bass, striper, and catfish. (rpmcustomrods.com)
If you’d rather paddle than cast a line, there are numerous outfitters who rent kayaks so you can try out the Blueway.
Encounter the lake at its very best during Clarksville’s 38th annual Lakefest, July 16–18, featuring arts, crafts, and food vendors, an antique auto show, a 5K run, children’s activities, helicopter rides, sand sculptors, live music, and fireworks over the lake. (clarksvilleva.com)
If you prefer to stay on land, there are plenty of scenic hiking and biking opportunities on the Tobacco Heritage Trail, spanning several towns and counties and winding through unspoiled woods, lush farms, and abandoned railroads. (tobaccoheritagetrail.org)
Southern culture in three towns
In South Hill, just off I-85, you’ll find the Tobacco Farm Life Museum of Virginia, the Model Railroad Museum and Wildlife Exhibit, and the Virginia S. Evans Doll Museum. The Colonial Center for the Performing Arts offers outstanding performances and rotating art exhibits. On June 20, the theater will host An Evening of Bluegrass, featuring Appalachian Express and Homegrown Bluegrass. (colonialcenterva.org)
Next, head to Chase City to peruse the hidden gems inside MacCallum More Museum and Gardens, including an expansive collection of European and Asian artifacts mingled with roses, herbs, wildflowers, and other blooming beauties. Inside the museum, you’ll find the largest public display of arrowheads in the U.S., among other fascinating treasures. (mmmg.org)
Clarksville, Virginia’s only lakeside town, is home to Prestwould Plantation, an impressive 18th-century home featuring original outbuildings, a slave house, and garden. The site also holds one of the largest collections of slave writings in the country. Afterward, soak up some theatrical entertainment from the Clarksville Community Players, performing plays and musicals throughout the year.
Where to stay
You’ll find a variety of lodging options. There are approximately 600 campsites spread throughout six campgrounds, perfect for setting up a tent and waking up to pristine lake views. Vacation rentals, such as lake houses and cabins, are available to fit every family and budget. For a more intimate experience, check into a charming bed-and-breakfast such as Cooper’s Landing Inn and Travelers Tavern in Clarksville or Southern Heritage Bed and Breakfast in Boydton.
For now, live as a local as you nod your cap to that familiar farmer, sip your sweet tea a little longer, and let the kids catch just one more firefly before the sun goes down. Make some sweet summer memories in Mecklenburg, central to a bounty of unmatched fun and genuine southern culture that’s visible in every thriving farm and friendly face.
For more information
Mecklenburg Co. Tourism: visitmeckva.com