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Speak of the Devil ... Scott officials trying to deal with new popularity of 'hidden gem'

September 9th, 2015 1:56 pm by Marci Gore

Speak of the Devil ... Scott officials trying to deal with new popularity of 'hidden gem'

The Devil's Bathtub, which is located near Fort Blackmore, was named Virginia's 'Hidden Gem' by The Weather Channel earlier this year. Photo courtesy of Tracy Jones

FORT BLACKMORE, Va. — Officials in Scott County are trying to figure out how best to deal with the influx of visitors to the Devil’s Bathtub.

It’s been called a hidden treasure and, for the longest time, very few people knew it even existed.

However, thanks to the power of the Internet and social media, the Devil’s Bathtub is anything but a secret now, and dozens of folks are flocking into Scott County each week to see this hidden rock feature and its breathtaking swimming hole.

Located in the Jefferson National Forest near Fort Blackmore, the Devil’s Bathtub can be accessed by hiking the 7.2-mile Devil's Fork Loop Trail, a beautiful but challenging trail. It has been featured on numerous travel and tourism websites and was even chosen as “Virginia’s Hidden Gem” by The Weather Channel.

It was after being featured on The Weather Channel that officials say the popularity of the Devil’s Bathtub surged in a very short period of time. And it’s an area that officials also say does not have the infrastructure in place to accommodate such high numbers of people.

“After The Weather Channel listed it as one of Virginia’s best kept secrets, everything changed. It’s definitely not a secret anymore,” said Danny Mann, who is the chairman of the Scott County Board of Supervisors and also represents the district in which the Devil’s Bathtub is located. “I’ve seen cars there from Texas, Ohio, North Carolina, Tennessee. People are coming from all over to see what it’s all about.” At last week’s monthly board of supervisors meeting, board members and other officials in the county tossed around ideas on how to address one of the biggest problems the Devil’s Bathtub area is experiencing now — the lack of parking.

There is a small parking area located at the top of the hill next to the trail head of the Devil’s Bathtub. But the area is only large enough to hold a dozen or so cars.

Once it’s full, people are parking their vehicles along the side of the state road that runs right in front of privately owned property. As a result, State Road 619 has now become an overflow parking area of sorts.

This has become problematic not only for the property owner, who says she and her family often have trouble, especially on weekends, getting to and from their home, but it’s also an issue for rescue personnel.

Roger Carter, chief of Duffield Fire and Rescue and president of the Scott County Firefighters Association, addressed the board of supervisors last week.

“Any time you add people to anything, the chances of an emergency become greater,” Carter said.

Carter said he was at the Devil’s Bathtub on a recent Tuesday and passed 19 people.

“And this past Monday, there were 10 vehicles in the (parking area) and I know for a fact two of the vehicles had four people in them,” Carter said.

Carter said he expected the long Labor Day weekend to bring in even more visitors to the Devil’s Bathtub.

A video shot on Sunday by Nancy Johnson, the aforementioned property owner, shows that there was a large number of visitors to the area.

Johnson’s video, which she shared with the Times-News, shows dozens of cars parked along the roadway that leads to not only the Devil’s Bathtub trail head, but also to Johnson’s property.

Carter says this year, so far, there have been seven rescues conducted at the Devil’s Bathtub. Last year, there were 26.

He estimates the cost of each rescue to be right at $1,150. Carter said this figure does not include any extra costs for bringing in a helicopter to assist with rescue efforts.

“In the past, we might have to go in there maybe once every two or three years, not once or twice a month like it’s been the past two years,” Carter said. “It’s rugged terrain and rescues cannot happen fast because it’s so remote. There’s no cell service up there. So somebody has to walk out and call for help. Then after we’re dispatched, we have to walk in and get them out. It requires several people to get involved. It’s a manpower situation. You have to have ample manpower to go in and carry people and your equipment out. It usually takes 10-plus people. It’s a concerning place for us, as far as rescues are concerned.”

Carter has met with the Forest Service’s Clinch District Ranger Barry Garten, who Carter says is eager to help solve the issues at the Devil’s Bathtub.

Garten assumed the position of district ranger in June, so the issue at hand is new to him.

Garten tells the Times-News he is working closely with a group of folks who are looking for ways to alleviate the parking concerns.

“We need to figure out a way to relieve the pressure that’s being put on the small parking area that exists right now. We’re trying to figure out what are all the possible alternatives. Even if we cleared out that whole (parking) area and landscaped it and put in a new parking area, if we continue to maintain the same number of people who are coming in that area, this isn’t going to help much. It’s still not big enough to accommodate the crowds that come there,” Garten said.

Garten said he has discussed the issues with some of his staff who, he says, have expertise in roads, engineering, hydrology and archeology.

“We’re trying to determine if there’s a better place we could locate the parking area. We do have a couple of other alternative locations we’re exploring. I’m hopeful that there will be some improvements before next year,” Garten said.

Carter says there is a limit to what can be done because of the lay of the land.

“You’ve got steep terrain on both sides and it’s government land, which can complicate things,” he said.

Officials all seem to be in agreement that they want people to be able to come and enjoy the Devil’s Bathtub.

“This is a great asset to our county. I see it as a golden goose, if we could just figure out a way to address the parking issue,” said Mann, adding that future meetings and discussions are planned with both local, state and federal officials.

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