Just a few miles from I-81 and the bustling town of Marion, boxed in by rugged mountain ridges, sits one of the Old Dominion’s oldest and favorite state parks–Hungry Mother State Park. The Park’s glimmering heart is Hungry Mother Lake, one of Virginia’s most beautiful and diverse stillwater fisheries.
According to legend, before America won its independence from Britain, Native Americans raided several settlements along the upper New River in southwest Virginia. Many died, but some survivors, including a mother, Molly Marley, and her small child, were captured and transported to a Native camp. One day, the two escaped captivity and fled into the surrounding mountains unequipped for survival, foraging for sustenance and seeking help and safety. After several days in the bush, Molly succumbed to starvation. Her child continued along, stumbling along a creek bottom until help was found, exhausted, and with only the strength to utter the words “hungry mother.”
In their honor, the mountain was named Molly’s Knob; and the creek, Hungry Mother Creek. In 1933, the Civilian Conservation Corps dammed the creek to form 108-acre Hungry Mother Lake, and the surrounding land was designated as Hungry Mother State Park.
Today, the state park is a rich and peaceful destination for anglers and outdoor enthusiasts, alike.
Anglers will find a beautiful mountain reservoir full of a wide array of sport fish to target. Healthy populations of all three species of black bass–smallmouth, largemouth, and spotted–await the angler, though largemouth bass are the dominant species. Great numbers of bluegill and black crappie will keep panfish anglers busy, and channel catfish are regularly stocked to maintain a fishable population. The lake also offers anglers the opportunity to catch walleye, hybrid striped bass, and musky in a small lake setting.
Recent surveys by VDWR biologists indicate that all of the sport fish populations are strong and show a great size structure, thanks largely to a forage base of alewives.
Hungry Mother Lake is one of the largest impoundments located entirely within a Virginia State Park, and it has that fact to thank for the numerous amenities it features.
For shore-bound anglers, the park maintains a handicap-accessible fishing pier, and additional bank access comes in the form of a hiking/mountain biking trail that traces the six miles of shoreline, and several pull-offs along Route 16 as it enters the park. The park rents canoes, kayaks, paddleboards, paddleboats, and Jon boats from Memorial Day through Labor Day, and a concrete boat ramp on the southeastern arm of the lake grants private boaters access for a $7 park entry fee.
The 2,180-acre state park offers multiple campgrounds, rental cabins, picnic areas, a beach, a playground, and food concessions to visitors, and the visitor center provides interpretive displays and serves as a base for interactive programs that are held throughout the summer months, making the lake a great family destination.
After spending a day in the park, the short drive back into the town of Marion may come as a surprise. Enjoy dinner at one of the many local restaurants downtown, and then catch a show at the Lincoln Theatre–built in 1929, and one of the last remaining Mayan Revival style theaters in the world. Hungry Mother Lake is a gem hidden in the mountains of Smyth County. Its impressive diversity of sport fish and overall health make it a must-visit fishery for anglers visiting the southwestern corner of the state, and the amenities of Hungry Mother State Park and nearby Marion enrich the experience.