SUTTON, W.Va. -- Marinas at Sutton and East Lynn lakes have undergone complete makeovers to attract new customers and help keep recreational boating on an even keel through tough economic times.
New Sutton Lake Marina owner-operator Bill Hunt has removed the old dock at Bee Run and replaced it with a new, 120-slip mooring complex with eight-foot-wide walkways and a large new floating Ship's Store grocery and café.
"I think the old dock dated back to the time the lake first opened in the early 1960s," said Hunt, a commercial real estate broker who took over the marina last October, after pleasure boating at the Braxton County reservoir since the 1970s.
After removing nearly 10 tons of waterlogged flotation Styrofoam and weather-beaten decking, Hunt brought in a much-improved, less-aged dock he bought from a Monongahela River marina in Pennsylvania, where on-shore facilities had been destroyed in a fire.
While the lake was at winter pool level, Hunt had a series of metal poles secured to bedrock at the bottom of the lake. The poles fit through a series of rings on the new floating dock, allowing the structure to automatically rise and fall with fluctuating lake levels -- making the old dock's system of pulleys and cables to adjust for lake levels obsolete.
Walkways were widened from four feet on the old dock to eight feet on the new one, and new utility conduits were added. The new power source on the dock is supplied by a double-grounded maritime system for added safety and reliability.
The new floating Ship's Store at Sutton Lake Marina features a Hunt Brothers (no relation) Pizza Shop, along with a café that serves up hot dogs, burgers and sandwiches, as well as popcorn beloved by both boaters and the dock's monster carp, or "Sutton Lake Tuna," as Hunt calls them.
The store also has a section devoted to angling supplies and live bait, in addition to a grocery store component. "We're trying to stock enough items in the store so that people won't have to leave the lake to make a run to town," Hunt said.
The store is also convenient for day-use boaters and those using the adjacent Army Corps of Engineers' swimming beach, picnic area and playground.
"At the old marina, the little store they had was way out in the water at the end of the dock," Hunt said. "It helped create an 'us-versus-them' atmosphere between the boaters who docked here and everyone else, which I'd like to change."
Because the slips available to season-long boaters sold out quickly, Hunt is already looking at a possible expansion. "The lease allows us to expand all the way to the mouth of Bee Run," Hunt said, providing enough space to more than double the current size of the marina.
Sutton Lake Marina's 50-passenger pontoon dinner boat Sutton Queen is available for private parties, reunions and weddings, and later in the season, dinner cruises. The marina also rents pontoon boats capable of carrying up to 10 passengers, fishing boats, and the 40-foot houseboat La Sirena, which sleeps 10 and is equipped with all the conveniences of home.
Bill and Mary Hunt first came to Braxton County in the '70s, and then moved to the Washington, D.C., area in the mid-1980s to pursue careers.
"It was always our plan to come back to West Virginia," said Hunt, now in his 60s. "I figured I would move back and broker a few real estate deals, but we found out that the marina was available and took it over last October."
Sutton Lake stretches 14 miles through the hills of Braxton County, along the channel of the Elk River just upstream of the town of Sutton.
At Wayne County's East Lynn Lake, another Army Corps of Engineers reservoir, Brian Siefert has pumped $1 million into building the all-new Lakeside Marina, now open for its first full season.
Siefert, whose Indianapolis firm constructs boat docks across the country, won the bid to operate the marina concession at East Lynn Lake in 2006. He demolished the dilapidated existing marina and began building a new facility in 2007, finishing the first phase of the project midway through last year's boating season.
"We've got 116 slips ready now for our first full season, and we have room for maybe 250," said Siefert.
The new dock is made of polyethylene-sealed floatation cells framed with galvanized steel topped with concrete decking, giving it an exceptionally stable feel.
In addition to the new floating dock boating complex, Siefert has built a floating store and restaurant, with a patio area big enough for picnic tables, a grill and outdoor music concerts. There is space in the store for bait and tackle items, snack foods, ice, cold beverages and convenience store fare.
To enhance security for boat owners, surveillance cameras are mounted at strategic panorama points throughout the marina.
"This lake is one of West Virginia's best-kept secrets," said Siefert. The 12-mile-long lake, a flood control impoundment of the East Fork of Twelvepole Creek, "is a deep-water lake, where unlimited horsepower is allowed."
The lake is popular with anglers in pursuit of largemouth, smallmouth and striped bass, as well as muskie, walleye and channel cats, and is the site of numerous fishing tournaments.
For information on Lakeside Marina at East Lynn Lake, call Laura Siefert, Brian Siefert's sister and the marina manager, at 304-849-2856.
Reach Rick Steelhammer at