Rockwell enters seventh year as manager at Philpott

Craig Rockwell, operations manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Philpott Lake, is shown at the lake in 2009 at the site where a marina now is located. Rockwell is entering his seventh year as operations manager at the lake. (Bulletin file photo)

January 23, 2015

Maintain. The. Status. Quo. 

Those words, when used together in a sentence, tend to raise Craig “Rocky” Rockwell’s anxiety level precipitously.

“It drives me crazy,” said Rockwell, laughing. 

At 58, Rockwell is entering his seventh year as operations manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Philpott Lake.

Though there are no immediate plans for projects at the lake, that may change, especially considering the many changes at the lake during Rockwell’s tenure so far. Even if there are new projects, Rockwell said they would strike a balance between the two extremes of Philpott: “Those who think a best kept secret should remain a best kept secret, and those who would exploit Philpott Lake.” 

Rockwell started his current position in 2009, a few months before the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009 was approved by Congress. The ARRA was an $831 billion stimulus package to save and/or create jobs to replace those lost during the economic decline and recession of 2007-2009.

At Philpott, the federal stimulus funds were used to demolish and rebuild four restroom/showerhouse buildings and to renovate an additional building to house showers. 

“Whether the ARRA is seen as a good thing politically or a bad thing politically, it was an opportunity for us to upgrade the restroom facilities and the shower facilities in two of our campgrounds,” Rockwell said.

“I think that infrastructure upgrading is one of the big changes here at the lake,” he said. The project “was a good thing in that it required a lot of coordination with other people.” 

Coordination, he said, is synonymous with communication.

“When you have to coordinate with other people, it allows you to build” relationships with many different people in various capacities and areas, and helps lay the foundation for additional opportunities to coordinate and communicate in the future, he added. 

“One of the key turning points for Philpott Lake was when we made the decision that we needed to do something to help the fishing tournaments,” Rockwell said, and noted that issue arose when officials realized the lake was losing tournaments. That had a domino effect, with a dip in tourism and businesses seeing decreased sales.

“We dove in to try to see what we could do to try to help and came up with the fishing tournament facility” built at Twin Ridge Park on the Franklin County side of the lake, he said. 

In May 2012, a ribbon-cutting ceremony was held on a new fishing tournament facility — that includes a large mooring dock, a launch/retrieve dock, a picnic shelter with water and electricity, restroom facilities and sidewalks that meet the standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act, according to previous reports. By September, 20 college teams participated in the National Guard FLW College Fishing Northern Conference Championship, a three-day tournament.

“It’s been fabulous, and there again, we had to work with a lot of people” to make the project a reality, Rockwell said. Early on, “we decided it would be a win/win or a no-deal negotiation.” 

That meant any change had to benefit not only tournament participants, but other lake users, and “if we couldn’t find anything that was good for all, we would not do anything at all,” he said. That mentality “forces you to realize that both sides need to win, and that kind of opened one of the final doors to getting the marina in.”

He was referring to the marina that opened in early 2014 on the Henry County side to provide basic necessities to lake visitors. 

“One of the first things I did when I came here was start talking to people to get ideas about how they felt” about building a marina, he recalled. To those opposed, he said his followup question was, “‘What is it you think the lake does need?’ Predominately, the answers I got were a gas pump on the lake, a very small bait and tackle shop and a few boat slips.”

From that point, Rockwell said he tried to help “everybody understand that was what a marina is (and) help them realize you can scale it down and make it do what you need it to do for your lake. Then, it became a matter of what is the right site and where do people feel this needs to be. Once again, communication” was imperative, he said. 

At the ribbon cutting for the marina, Rockwell said that he brainstormed frequently with former Henry County Administrator Benny Summerlin, who died Aug. 15, 2012.

“Benny and I shared a vision of a marina built and operated by the public, for the public,” Rockwell said in previous reports, “just big enough to meet the needs of the lake’s boaters and not so large as to overdevelop this beautiful and highly cherished lake. ... We shared how we both saw this marina as our swansong, one last gift to the community before we both retired from public service. This marina will help us remember many good things he did for our community.” 

The marina cost $1,354,109. That included $785,971 from the county; $418,138 from The Harvest Foundation; and $150,000 from the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp. (EDC). The county’s funds include $110,971 that was saved in a water line project at Commonwealth Crossing Business Centre, county officials have said.

The lake’s relationship with members of the Dan River Basin Association (DRBA) is listed at the top of Rockwell’s “interesting relationship changes. ... DRBA focuses their efforts on improving the quality of life within the Dan River Basin, and quality of life is a really good place to focus your efforts,” he said. 

“A lot of the success of Philpott Lake since I’ve been here is not necessarily because I’ve been here,” he said. “It was timing. I believe God puts you where he needs you. He has a plan for you.”

Rockwell said if he had a mission or vision statement, it would be Psalms 23. 

“That is where we read, ‘He maketh me lie down in green pastures; he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul,’” Rockwell said.

“I get to be the keeper of the green pastures and place to restore souls,” he added, “and that’s a pretty good place to be.” 


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