In the spring of 2015, I was giving a tour of Montreat to leaders of other Western North Carolina conference centers. As we walked across the dam, one of my peers asked a perfectly reasonable question: “Who was Lake Susan named for?”
I turned around, searching memories of a lifetime in Montreat: “Um…Susan?” If you ever find me on Jeopardy, bet against me. Embarrassed enough, I vowed never to take Lake Susan for granted again.
You can read a short history here about the boating and the swimming and Lake Susan’s place in our community life. Just as rich is the unofficial history. People have been baptized in Lake Susan. People have been proposed to and married on the shores of Lake Susan. People have been tossed fully clothed into Lake Susan without their consent (in my case, more than once). And Lake Susan makes a big impression on the brand new, folks who just happen upon Montreat on a pretty day. Maybe they’re exploring, maybe they’re lost, or maybe they’re just driving around killing time; Lake Susan is the place they park the car, get out and walk around.
The lake hosts other community life, too, including those fishing for native brook trout and rainbow trout. The lake has hosted swans, and currently is home to a family of geese that, like swans, are as protected a species as they are fowl. Seriously, Lake Susan is a prominent contributor to Montreat’s status as a certified wildlife habitat of the National Wildlife Federation.
Finally, there is Lake Susan’s role in storm water management. Serving as a retention pond for much of the water that can rush through the northeast end of the valley, Lake Susan was recently identified in a recent study as a valuable asset to Montreat’s storm water retention efforts, which noted its provision of “flood attenuation and sediment capture.” And therein lies a challenge.
Over the last twenty years or so, continued “sediment capture” has left Lake Susan much shallower than it once was. (If you haven’t noticed, check out the new “island” rising above the surface over by the docks the next time you walk by.) Already, the gathering sediment is a problem for recreation activities as paddle boats and canoes increasingly strike land where land shouldn’t be. Fishing is paying a price, too, because the shallower lake accommodates fewer fish. Even more importantly, Lake Susan’s potential as a tool for storm water management is being progressively compromised.
Left unattended, the problem would only get worse and, following the study’s recommendations, the conference center must dredge Lake Susan at some point over the next few years. Such a project is more complex than you might imagine, involving participation of government authorities and requiring some funding, to be sure. We’ll provide more details as they materialize.
For now, I hope you will agree Lake Susan offers us so much as recreation center, as an environmental haven, and as an important part of the town’s infrastructure. Protecting the treasure that is Lake Susan is important to everyone who loves Montreat and will love Montreat in the years to come. Think about it; we can’t take Lake Susan for granted.
The Lake was christened “Lake Susan” by action of the Mountain Retreat Association Board of Directors on June 5, 1924, in recognition of a gift by Allen Graham and his mother, Mrs. C.E. Graham. Mrs. Graham’s name was Susan, as were her mother, her daughter, and granddaughter.
President, Montreat Conference Center