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The Nevada Traveler: Urban oasis: Reno’s Virginia Lake

By Richard Moreno
Feeding bread pieces to waterfowl is a popular activity at Reno’s beautiful and historic Virginia Lake.
Richard Moreno

One of the many projects constructed by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in Nevada in the 1930s was Virginia Lake, located south of Plumb Lane between South Virginia and Plumas streets.

According to records, construction of the lake and embankment work took place during 1938-39. Prior to that, a local resident, Roger Teglia, persuaded the Washoe County commissioners to purchase the land where the lake now sites. He sweetened the deal by contributing money of his own to the purchase.

The WPA developed construction projects throughout the country in the wake of the Great Depression to provide jobs and incomes to the unemployed.

During construction, the Virginia Lake project began with a crew of 25 workers and quickly expanded to 60. The crews dug the massive lake basin, added storm drains, built a walking path around the lake and installed landscaping.

Of special note is that installing the landscaping was supervised by John Henry Reeve, superintendent of Washoe County Parks. Reeve previously had helped with the design of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park and with several parks in Los Angeles before embarking on the Virginia Lake project.

He transplanted many of the trees and plants still found at the lake, such as the junipers. Additionally, the University of Nevada, Reno and a number of community members donated a large number of plants that saved on the cost of developing the park.

When it was completed, the lake covered 25.5 acres, with a capacity of 208 acre-feet and a maximum depth of 12 feet.

Water for the lake was provided via the Cochran Ditch, at the northwest corner of the lake, and the Plumas/Moana storm drain system at the south end. Since the lake basically serves as a big catch-basin, the water exists through a spillway and storm drain located at the southern end.

While the lake has served as a stormwater detention facility during particularly wet years, it was originally intended to serve as a city fishing park and recreational lake. It has traditionally been stocked with fish (mostly rainbow, brown and bowcutt trout), although a state record, 35-pound, 3-ounce carp was caught in the lake last March.

Other varieties of fish found in the lake include Channel catfish, largemouth bass and black crappie.

Surrounding the lake is a popular 1-mile pedestrian/jogging/biking trail while directly to the southwest is a large children’s playground park. The Virginia Lake Dog Park, south of the playground, originally was a fish hatchery, which closed after a massive nearly-citywide flood in 1964-65.

When the lake officially was opened on Sept. 1, 1938, it hosted a fishing day after stocking the lake with 100,000 fish.

In addition to fish, the lake also is home to thousands of waterbirds, including double-breasted cormorants, geese, duck, snowy egrets and California gulls.

A couple of small islands in the lake, from which fountains spray water, also serve as nesting grounds for several species of birds. Visitors often bring stale bread from home, which they feed to the birds.

The lake remains one of Reno’s more popular recreation spots with grassy fields, picnic shelters, barbecue pits and tables and parcourse fitness areas.

For additional information about the lake, go to http://www.reno.gov/home/showdocument?id=22563.

Rich Moreno writes about the places and people that make Nevada special.