When starting to plan our summer vacation this year, my husband and I agreed that our actual destination was less important to us than that it be close to Washington, D.C. My son and his girlfriend live there and although we knew they wouldn't be able to join us for a whole week, we hoped at least they'd be able to come for part of it. My husband went to grad school in Virginia many moons ago and remembered that there was a big manmade lake called Lake Anna in the middle of the state, so that's where we began our VRBO search for a dog-friendly house to rent.
Some of the Lake Anna house listings casually mentioned that there was a "cold" side of the lake and a "warm" side, but we didn't give this much thought. We found and rented a house for the last week in July, paid up, and that was pretty much that.
When we arrived, the friendly owner showed us around the property, including his little boat dock and the canoe stored in his shed which we were free to use. That evening, my husband and I took the short walk down the road to what was advertised as a "sandy beach." What we hadn't been told was that the beach was so miniaturized that perhaps five people could have shared it comfortably. Overcrowding didn't seem to be a problem, however. There was no one on the sand, or, as far as the eye could see, anywhere in the lake, even though the air temperature was in the mid-90s. Boats, yes; swimmers, no. I waded into the murky water up to my ankles and found that it was approximately the same temperature as the air. Ah - we must be on the "warm" side! So much for the prospect of refreshing swims!
We took day trips over the next few days. Charlottesville on Monday (about 97 degrees out), Richmond on Tuesday (roughly the same), and an extremely boring afternoon in Fredericksburg on Wednesday (a balmy 95) as we prepared to meet my son's 7 p.m. train. Really no attempts to use the lake at any point during those days.
I don't remember at what point I was in the house, idly leafing through local brochures, when I finally learned the delightful reason why the lake had a cold side and a warm side. BECAUSE THERE IS A NUCLEAR POWER PLANT ON LAKE ANNA, THAT'S WHY!!! The cold water is pulled up to cool the centrifuges, and the hot water is discharged right back into the lake! And we didn't even have to visit the friendly nearby Nuclear Information Center to find that out! Welcome to Vacationland!!
It wasn't until we got home that I googled Lake Anna and learned that, in fact, the lake only exists because of the power plant. That's the purpose for which it was built - providing water to cool things off. But once it was built, vacation communities sprang up everywhere along the lakeshore. We saw one development in the process of being built that advertised lakefront homes "starting in the low 500 thousands." This was in rural Virginia, mind you, where I would have to assume that similarly-sized non-lakefront homes probably cost less than half of that.
So here is my question. Yes, we were idiots for not learning more about Lake Anna before we went there, but it was only for a week. Who in their right mind chooses to buy a vacation home on a lake whose water is circulated through a nuclear power facility??? Are these people so confident that there could never ever be, say, a highly toxic - okay, deadly - leak into the water?
Had we done our homework before we left and learned the history of Lake Anna, I can assure you this would have been our reaction:
As opposed to: "Hey, we love it here! Beautiful scenery, and the power plant adds that little frisson of excitement so necessary to our adventuresome spirits! Let's plunk down our life savings and build our dream house right in this very spot!"
Oh well. To each his own, I suppose. I will say that we had a pleasant land-based vacation week, and we came back rested, healthy and happy. In fact, you might even say that we're... glowing.