Legion Lake used to be filled with people swimming, diving, fishing and just having a fun time out in nature.
Today, the only thing left of it is a trickle of water and broken pieces of concrete from what used to be the dam.
Members of American Legion Post 11 in Dudley are trying to raise money to restore Legion Lake back to its original beauty.
“Originally, it was Crescent Lake,” said post commander Ron Medus. “It was renamed Woodland Lake when they built structures and water features. Later down the road, it became Gold Park Lake.”
When the American Legion bought the property in 1972, it was renamed Legion Lake.
Hurricane Floyd came through in 1999 and destroyed the lake and the dam.
“We would like to get the dam back to have the lake again,” Medus said. “The dam was washed out by the hurricane. At that point, we lost our lake, and now we just have a creek. But water runs 24/7 so it’s got to be spring fed.”
Medus said the lake was a well-known feature for years. And at one time, it was stocked with lots of fish.
“I heard that a record state crappie was caught out there,” he said. “When we restore it, we want to restock it with fish again.”
The purpose of restoring the lake to its former glory is to give local veterans someplace to go to chill out and recuperate from whatever they need to recuperate from, Medus said.
“It will give them someplace to unwind where they don’t have to pay money,” he said. “PTSD is so rampant these days. What’s more relaxing than a day out sitting, fishing or swimming?”
A couple years ago, the American Legion post contacted the Army Corps of Engineers for help restoring the lake, but was told it could not help.
“We had a grant lined up to get the lake put back in, but it fell through because we’re not a municipality,” Medus said. “We would have to actually rent the property to a municipality, and they would have to apply for the grant.
“We do not want to relinquish the property to anyone. We don’t want to turn it into a public park. We want it to be used for the veterans and our members. We’re not trying to make a profit. We’re trying to get the lake out here for veterans.”
Then the North Carolina Veterans Affairs Office stepped in. If the American Legion can raise half of the $350,000 needed to restore the lake, Veterans Affairs will match it.
So the American Legion set up a GoFundMe page and is busy trying to raise the $175,000. Members are planning several fundraisers and will go out to civic groups to ask for help.
Medus said to get Legion Lake back to its former state requires removing trees around the dam area and removing what remains of the old dam and putting in a new one.
American Legion member Pete Benton said Legion Lake is definitely needed.
“If you review the literature in mental health and wellness, you’ll find that when psychologists do studies about large bodies of water — like the ocean or lakes — it tends to have a very soothing effect on people who are under a great deal of stress,” he said. “From a mental health perspective, it’s a tremendous place for veterans and their families, especially for young men and women coming back from combat.
“They need a place where they can go to find peace and rest. And we would be very encouraged to invite our law enforcement, firefighters and first responders out to the lake. We could have social events here, like picnics and family events.”
Legion member Tony Lane, 80, recalls many a day when he would go to the lake when it was still there.
“It was a fun place,” he said. “I had younger brothers that I brought out there. It was a good clean place to go to.
“It’s almost disgusting now because it dried up. It was part of the lake back then. I’d like to have it where you could go out and enjoy it like you used to could do.”
Bill Graham, Legion member, remembers when his mother and father used to take his three brothers, four sisters and him out to the lake to go swimming.
“One of the things that sticks out in my mind about the water in the lake, it was dark colored, looked like tea,” the 69-year-old said. “That didn’t keep me from going into the water though.”
He recalls the U-shaped pier and the slide at the lake.
“It was a good period of my childhood,” Graham said. “I feel sad now because it’s part of history that’s gone. I want to go back out there to jump in and get wet and do some fishing.”
Medus had spent time at the lake, too, before it was destroyed.
“I’ve fished there,” he said. “It was a very nice place to go and relax. It allows you a chance to put things behind you and get them off of your mind.”
American Legion member Gina Evans said she’s had several people come in to apply for membership and ask about the lake.
“They remember back in the day when they used to go fishing there,” she said. “They want to go back again. It brings back a lot of memories.”
Not only does it bring back memories and help veterans de-stress, but the lake also allows access to those with physical disabilities.
“I like to fish, but I’ve got physical disabilities and can’t get to where I can really go fish,” said Legion member Rose Stallings. “The lake here is more level, and you don’t have rocks in the way to get down to the water. It’s easier for me to fish here than to try to fish anywhere else.”
Laura Snell, who’s been a member of the American Legion for 33 years, remembers the lake vividly.
“The lake was a lot of fun,” she said. “A lot of families came down. Now we can’t even have our fishing groups out there. It looks terrible now. It breaks my heart. We need to get it going again.”
Anyone wanting to make a donation to help restore Legion Lake can drop it off at the Legion building on U.S. 117 South, send a check or go onto the GoFundMe page.