In 1948, Blacksburg resident James Pandapas, known for having brought its first two industries to the town – Electro-Tec and Poly Scientific – purchased a 500-acre tract of Appalachian hardwoods and pines between Brush and Gap Mountains. He intended to use the timber for low-cost housing he was developing in Blacksburg and Narrows. Originally called “Poverty Pond,” Mr. Pandapas built the 8-acre, man-made pond.
Using only road grading equipment, he dammed the five natural springs forming the pond, which is 14 feet deep in some places. At one point, he tired of pushing the dirt, rocks and trees, so he left a large pile in the center of the pond forming an island. Mr. Pandapas developed the land into a private recreational area for the exclusive use of his Electro-Tec and later Poly Scientific employees for hunting, fishing, boating, hiking and picnicking. He named it “Pan Villa,” which was later changed to Pandapas Pond without his knowledge.
In the 1960s, after Pandapas sold the Poly Scientific business, he opened the park to the public. It became a popular place for all-night drinking parties with copious beer cans and trash left behind. “I had to send a truck to pick up the beer cans and trash [every Monday morning],” he said in a 1993 interview. “I had no interest in policing it.”
After attending a dedication of the improvements to the Cascades in Giles County, Pandapas was asked to consider selling the 500 acres, including the pond, to the U.S. Forest Service. It would become part of the Jefferson National Forest, which surrounded about two-thirds of the 500 acres. At first, he offered to give them the land if the Forest Service would make a lot of the improvements comparable to the Cascades. However, the government would not accept a deed to the land with any conditions. So, instead of giving it away, he sold it in 1983 to the U.S. Forest Service for what it had cost him in 1948 plus the costs of the road and pond improvements.
Today, Pandapas Pond Recreation Area is the only Federal Day Use Recreation Area in Montgomery County. Many, but not all, of the improvements promised Pandapas have been implemented. A one-mile circuit pedestrian-use only trail goes around the pond and is suitable for wheelchairs and strollers. More than 20 miles of multi-use forest trails radiate from the pond site and play host year-round to hikers, mountain bikers and horseback riders. The trails traverse Brush and Gap Mountains and vary in difficulty from strolling worthy to extreme mountain biking challenges and everything in between.
The pond is stocked with trout between October and May, and, according to the U.S. Forest Service, the day-use recreational area receives more visitors than the Cascades – a fact that pleased Mr. Pandapas in his later years. He was active in real estate development and business and considered the pond one of his “lesser noteworthy contributions.” Although he recognized how popular it became and how meaningful it was to the many who visited, he often called it a “puddle between two mountains.”
Mr. Pandapas died in 2003, and his family has honored his memory with a commemorative plaque, bench and dogwood tree at “Inspiration Point.” It can be found on the trail that begins behind the bulletin board next to the lower parking lot.
By Kathy Pandapas Sevebeck
Kathy Sevebeck is a lifelong resident of Blacksburg and has enjoyed the pond through the years with her parents, sisters, children, husband and grandchildren. She is an award-winning quilter, seamstress, gardener and freelance writer.