Paintsville Lake is a reservoir on the West Fork of the Cumberland River, in Johnson County and Morgan County in southeastern Kentucky. The lake extends into parts of Anderson County and Russell County. It was constructed in 1960 to provide hydroelectric power and for other water purposes. Paintsville Lake has an area of 1,300 acres (530ha) with 15 miles (24km) of shoreline and is about 3 miles (4.8km) deep at its deepest. Its normal operating elevation is 404 feet (123m) above sea level; it reaches a maximum depth of 481 feet (154m).
There are also several trails that allow hiking around the lake. Mountain biking is allowed only on certain designated routes. Canoeing and kayaking are especially popular activities. Campers can utilize one of two campgrounds as well as cabins and other facilities at Paintsville Lake State Park. Backcountry camping is not permitted, however tent camping is available at Little Falls Creek Group Camp within park boundaries. Paintsville Lake is known as the “Crappie Capital” of Kentucky, due to its large population of crappies. Crappies are small, silvery-grey fish often seen swimming along the surface or buried in the mud. They feed on algae and organic matter from the bottom of shallow lakes and ponds.
In the spring, male crappies begin to attract females by spawning and dying. Their eggs hatch into larvae which then become prey for larger fish such as largemouth bass and northern pike. As a result, crappies are rarely caught in their adult form. Instead they are commonly found as dead adults, because they swim up rivers during summer months to find cooler waters in which to hide from predators. Because of this practice, the term “crappie fishery” refers to all fish species, both predator and prey, rather than just the crappie itself. Paintsville Lake’s dam is made of rock fill, concrete, and earthfill.
Construction began in 1958 and completed in 1960. At the time it was built, the dam provided more electricity than any other single source in the state. Water flowed through the dam’s 36 turbines at a rate of 22 million gallons each day (Second Magnitude Flood, 2008), enough to meet the needs of 16,000 homes throughout the region. However, since completion, the dam’s generation capacity has been reduced significantly due to damage incurred in the 2007 Virginia earthquake. Dam repairs were finished in June 2010 and the resumption of full power occurred in October 2011. A new 345 foot section was installed between 2016 and 2017. The current estimate for when the entire project will be complete is 2023.
Power generation costs the Commonwealth of Virginia $2million annually to maintain the facility. To date, approximately 5% of the total cost to repair the dam has been funded by the Commonwealth. Private sector entities have also invested millions of dollars in the refurbishment effort. According to Energex, the operator of the dam, over 200 million US gallons of fresh water flow daily across the dam’s crest. Through a drainage tunnel beneath the dam, water flows downriver toward Lake Poague where it joins with another stream to make its way to the Atlantic Ocean via the Chesapeake Bay. The dam is part of a major electric generation complex which includes dams at Big Sandy, Cove Point, and Mount Rogers National Recreation Area as well as numerous coal-powered plants. These plants produce nearly 40 percent of the electrical energy consumed in Virginia.
The Paintsville Lake watershed drains into the West Fork of the Cumberland River which forms the border between Tennessee and Kentucky. Thus, the lake is shared by fishermen in both states. Fishing begins at the boat launch near Carysfort Road and continues along the shores of the lake. Gas powered boats are prohibited on the lake. Electric powered motors may be used but must be registered with any state. Non powered or rowboats must display registration stickers from any state. Rowboats and canoes must be no longer than sixteen inches wide and forty eight inches long. All boats must be properly registered with any state. No bait or tackle may be brought onto the grounds of the park. Bait and tackle may be purchased at the park office. Only those items listed below may be taken from the park premises.
Permits may be acquired at the park offices. Hunting is limited to white tail deer, eastern gray squirrels, wild turkey, common pheasant, ruffed grouse, raccoons, opossums, muskrats, cottontail rabbits, and American black bears. Hunters are expected to follow the rules and regulations of the Kentucky Department of Parks. The following state parks are within 30 miles (48km) of Paintsville Lake State Park: Eastern Shore Paint Valley Lake is located east of Paintsville Lake. It is accessed via Highway 1116. This lake features mostly forested land with some farm fields.
The Appalachian Trail passes through the southern portion of the lake. Rock climbing is permitted at three areas. Two climbing/roping areas are accessible via the main trail loop. Climbing requires helmet, harness, and freefall protection. The third area is off limits to climbers. Boats may be launched from either the western or eastern beach. Access to the latter is restricted to persons with permits obtained at the park office. Both beaches contain ample parking and access to potable drinking water. Picnicking is welcome at the lake and there are four picnic shelters on site. None have cooking equipment. Each shelter accommodates up to six people and has tables and grills. Laundry and vending machines are also available.
The park has ten cabins and 46 campsites divided among them. Eighteen of the campsites feature 50 Amp electric service hookups. Restrooms facilities including hot showers are located nearby. Half of the campsites are available year round while the remainder are open May through September. Winterization procedures are performed on the campsite and cabin units in late February through March to ensure a safe winter season. The park closes for the season in early December. The lake freezes over completely for ice fishing and skating during the winter months. Ice fishing takes place at the mouth of Prickett’s Creek, a tributary of the West Fork of the Cumberland River.
The creek is thawed by warm air flowing down the hollows from the mountains, warming the lake. The frozen lake does not offer much for the fisherman except for ice fishing supplies and access to the lake. Skating is allowed on the lake during regular business hours. Fishermen may rent snow mobiles and tubes to take home and use on the lake. The park hosts a variety of events including family reunions, company picnics, outdoor sportsman’s shows, weddings, and birthday parties. The lake is stocked with rainbow trout each fall. An annual competition is held to select the largest and most beautiful rainbow trout and the biggest and smallest brown trout. Prizes are awarded to the winners.
The lake contains multiple outposts of:
- rare butterflies
- including palamedes
- zebra swallowtails
- tiger swallowtails
- Atlantic holly azures
Other wildlife observed at the lake include:
- barred owls
- red foxes
- wild turkeys
- bald eagles
- Canada geese
- river otters
- mountain lions
This lake provides many opportunities for fishing including: