New Scuba Refuge Gives Greenbo Visitors a Fish-Eye View
Bridges Issue 40 • Wednesday, September 3rd, 2014
GREENBO LAKE STATE RESORT PARK – Kentucky’s only public scuba diving refuge opened last July at Greenbo Lake State Resort Park in Greenup and is slowly attracting visitors who want to experience the lake like one of its infamous trophy bass.
“It has been a great addition and I look for it to definitely grow and increase in the future,” said Park Manager Stephanie Poplin.
The 10-acre diving sanctuary is open April through October and averages 25-feet in depth. The lake boasts clear water, which easily reaches temperatures in the 80s during the summer. Divers have easy access to the water via a road and dock behind the Jesse Stuart Lodge.
Poplin said most of the divers who have used the lake so far have local ties, including several instructors training new divers. “This is the perfect area for training because the water is not exceptionally deep, and is clear,” Poplin said.
Local industries and first responders have long used Greenbo for rescue diver training, but before last year, the general public was not permitted to dip beneath the lake’s surface. It took more than a year for a coalition of park officials backed by the non-profit Friends of Greenbo Lake to gain approval for the public diving refuge, which was protested by anglers. Last summer, the Kentucky General Assembly, with the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Commission’s blessing, approved the refuge on a three-year trial basis.
Poplin said she is confident scuba will become a permanent addition to Greenbo. “Anything new, people might not always be real receptive of at first, but once they get used to it, I feel certain that the divers and the fishermen are going to co-exist really well together and hopefully it will be a big boost to the economy in the area.”
Some of the benefit to anglers will come from the installation of additional underwater features in the refuge, providing shelter and habitat to the lake’s population of sport fish, she said. A few underwater obstacles already have been added and there are plans to add a covered bridge in a nod to the county’s two surviving bridges. An underwater geocache is also being developed.
“We have a local group that is very active with our scuba refuge. They are very experienced divers and they know what people are looking for. When you have features in the water, that’s when you are going to have more of a draw,” Poplin said.
“All the people who have made dives in the refuge since it opened are just really glad that there is somewhere that is close to home to dive,” added Bobby Allen, Greenup County Tourism director and Friend’s chairman.
“I think, overall, having any action adventure sport at Greenbo is an absolute advantage,” said Allen. “It’s a good way to attract people to the park, and once one thing goes in, it leads to other things,” he added. The scuba refuge is just one example of a larger statewide effort to diversify recreation offerings to attract new user groups to state parks, which have struggled in recent years with stagnating budgets and increased competition for tourism dollars.
“For example, the work that we put in to get the scuba diving refuge up and running led to the work we’re doing now on the Eastern Kentucky Bikeway that starts and ends at Greenbo,” Allen said. The park is also working on adding dedicated mountain biking trails and a potential zip line, Poplin noted.
For now though, Poplin and Allen are focused on promoting scuba at Greenbo. “It has been a little slow starting, but anything new is,” said Poplin. A new statewide advertising campaign is now in full swing and the refuge is being advertised online.
Poplin said word of the new refuge is also spreading through the nation’s tight-knit diving community and park officials are hoping uncertified locals will take the plunge and try a new sport.
“If someone out there is interested in becoming certified, we do have contacts here at the park that we can put them in touch with,” Poplin added.
The refuge is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., April through October. Divers must register at the park’s office and pay a daily fee of $12. Safety guidelines have been established and buoys warn boat traffic away from the area while divers are in the water. To use the area, divers must be open-water certified or higher or be accompanied by an instructor with the appropriate certification. The area is open to anglers and boaters when divers are not in the water, as signified by buoys and red and white “diver down” flags.
Greenbo’s refuge is the only one in the country that offers divers onsite lodging and restaurant accommodations in addition to camping. The park currently is offering divers two special packages combining a one-day scuba pass, one night’s lodging, a continental breakfast and lunch. The price is $66.50 per person (based on double occupancy) Sunday-Thursday and $77 on weekends.