Lake Pelham Adventures a perfect example of public/private partnership

Lake Pelham Adventurers hosted its ribbon cutting for its new dock and gazebo Friday. The public/private partnership between the Town of Culpeper and the Ole Country Store is thriving.

Lake Pelham Adventures is the perfect example of a private/public partnership done right.

The business, located at the Ole Country Store along U.S. 29 on Lake Pelham, hosted its ribbon cutting for new docks and a gazebo that will help residents be able to enjoy the body of water.

Operated jointly by the Town of Culpeper and the Ole Country Store, the boat rental business added a gazebo for rental Friday. Last year, after it opened in late July, the boat rentals topped 1,300 for the year. That number was surpassed in one month this year, as 1,500 boats were rented out in June.

The public has swarmed to the business in the warm summer months, Ole Country Store owner Al Esh said.

“It will be middle of the weekday and everything will be rented out,” he said. “There will be hardly a piece left in the building.”

That’s an impressive feat, considering the business has access to 30 pieces of watercraft including kayaks, canoes, paddleboards and paddleboats.

When Culpeper Town Manager Chris Hively first moved to the county, he looked at Lake Pelham and saw opportunity.

“I thought it would be cool to have more access to the lake,” Hively said.

After he joined the town as environmental services director, he watched as the town had to address an $18 million dam issue with the lake, which took away access from boaters.

“We had to find a solution,” Hively said.

That solution came as the Ole Country Store moved to its new location in 2015 and Hively reached out with a proposal.

“We ended up with a crazy idea, which is what we have here,” Hively said.

Hively called the project “complicated” and praised all the patience and work that went in behind the scenes.

“This would not have happened without the support of the mayor and town council,” Hively said. “They saw our vision and they knew we didn’t have all the issues smoothed out but they allowed us to move forward.”

Lake Pelham Adventures is a pure partnership, as the town and Ole Country Store split revenues 50-50 when the store is open. When the store is closed, town employees man Lake Pelham Adventures and the town receives the profits. Boat rentals cost $5 an hour or $10 for the paddleboats. The gazebo will be managed by the Ole Country Store and it costs $120 a day to rent, or $20 an hour.

Mayor Mike Olinger pointed out that there were many more partners involved, mentioning Lifepoint Church, Culpeper Wood Preservers, MD Russell Construction, ATCS, Samuel James Construction, Timmons Group, Harbor Dredge and Dock and Town of Culpeper staff and council.

“Parks have long been recognized as contributors to the physical aesthetic of urban neighborhoods but a new and broader view of parks has been emerging,” Olinger said. “This new view goes well beyond the traditional values of parks as areas of recreation.”

The mayor talked about the tangible benefits of parks, including the impact on real estate prices, increased municipal revenue and just the improvement of quality of life.

The Culpeper Youth Council were also present, helping boaters enjoy the lake.

“It’s a great opportunity for our youth to come out here and help folks launch their boats,” Olinger said. ‘What an impact this is going to have on our community!”

Esh praised the group effort and said they didn’t know how it was going to turn out originally.

“This year is proof of the saying ‘if you build it they will come,” he said.

He said that families from California, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Massachusetts have visited Lake Pelham Adventures and enjoyed the lake.

“I’m proud to be a part of a public private partnership that works,” Esh said.

Had families from California, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Tennessee and Massachusetts

Esh said The Ole Country Store has made a commitment that any profits they receive from Lake Pelham Adventures will go straight back into capital improvement projects for the facility. Esh mentioned bathrooms, showers, a pavilion and more equipment as improvements folks could see.

On Friday, several families took advantage of free rentals. Dr. Lee Simpson and his family just finished a “relaxing” trip up the lake.

“It’s a lot of fun because you stay local and it’s just a fun afternoon with the family,” his wife Whitney Simpson said.

The Simpson family kayaks once or twice a year on the Shenandoah, but Whitney Simpson said it was nice having a calm and not crowded location nearby to go for a boat ride.

“I think it’s a huge thing to be able to spend time together,” Lee Simpson said. “The kids like being out and it gets them unplugged from the electronics.”

He too, was pleased that Culpeper and the Ole Country Store came up with the concept.

“I think whoever came up with the idea is a genius,” Lee Simpson said. “It’s something anybody can do. It’s a lot of fun.”

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Jeff Say is the editor for the Culpeper Times. He can be reached at