Philpott Lake Operations Project Manager Rocky Rockwell was honored recently with the American
Recreation Coalitions Legends Award at the "Partners Outdoors 2015" conference, held in Washington,
DC. He was cited in the awards submission, prepared by Wilmington District Chief of Operations
Daniel Brown, for the way he "expanded and enhanced recreational opportunities through
public/private partnerships" at Philpott.
Rocky is a natural extrovert, and when he arrived as the new manager at Philpott in 2009, he met
with his assistant manager Earl Wright to explore ways they would work together. He discovered that
Wright had also applied for the OPM position, and Rocky asked him what role attracted him to the
position. Rocky was delighted to learn that Wright wanted to work closely with the rangers, because
he saw a very different role for himself. He had become aware of the need to carve out a far more
visible and publicly engaged role for the lakes OPM, and he saw himself working to raise the lakes
profile and develop relationships within the community, a natural role for his extroverted personality.
Hed leave day-to-day operations to Wright.
When Rocky discovered that the area was reeling from job losses and plant closures, he quickly
recognized that tourism could boost the ailing economy and looked to the nearby Blue Ridge Parkway,
which attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors to the area annually, to lure visitorsand tourist
dollarsto the area. If he could encourage these travelers to stop and spend some time fishing,
hiking, swimming or simply enjoying the delightful scenery at the lake, he could improve the economic
health of the area.
Soon after Rocky arrived at the project, he learned that the project did not have the specific
facilities required by championship fishing tournaments. These tournaments attract tens of thousands
of visitors to lakes like Philpott, and he knew the significance of the FLW and Bassmaster events to the
local culture and economy. But where would he get the funds to make the necessary improvements to
the lakes infrastructure?
Rocky reached out to the local tourism officers with a proposal: Help Philpott Lake build an attractive
fishing tournament facility and continue luring these important eventsand visitors--to the lake. He
cited the lakes 650,000 annual visitors and the average $30 per person that they bring with them,
yielding a total economic impact of more than $20 million. Did the local brass want to lure more
tourists, and their dollars?
They did, and they helped Philpott with the project. Franklin Countys tourism chief Michael Burnett
committed to $50k, enough to launch the estimated $120-170k project by financing a new dock at a
little-used day use facility. Now, the facility regularly attracts tournaments and thousands of visitors.
The first major tournament held at the new facility was the FLW Northern District College Bass
Tournament, and this event alone brought in more than $500,000 to the local economy during the
week of the tournament. Because it was a nationally televised event, the visitation at the lake
increased dramatically, leveraging the return on the original $50,000 investment to more than $1.5
million in economic impact. The lakes visitation in the meantime climbed to more than 750,000.
Rocky is also a big believer in keeping the public informed of the lakes activities and maintaining
contact with local media. When editors are accustomed to associating your project with good news,
you have a better chance of getting fair coverage when youre dealing with bad news, said Rocky. A
Google search of Philpotts recent coverage in the media reveals numerous stories about the new
marina, maintenance activities at the dam and volunteer activities, and many of these stories include
positive comments from local officials and visitors.
Other successful projects Rocky and his team have launched or refined in the past seven years
- The six-mile Jamison Mill Trail System, created with support from partners like the Friends of
Philpott, Franklin County, Henry County Bike Club and others. The multiple-loop trail has put Philpott
on the map for cyclists and hikers alike.
- The merger of the Friends of Philpott Lake with the Dan River Basin Association, an
established non-profit with greater resources and broader goals. The merged organization leveraged
other partnerships to establish a blue ways paddle trail on Philpott, complete a bridge and provide
other improvements to improve the lakes recreation program.
- The integration of the lakes volunteer program into its day-to-day operations. Rockys team,
which he calls Team Philpott, also enhanced the Volunteer Village to attract new volunteers.
- The Beach Watch program in which volunteers engage with visitors at swim beaches and boat
launches to provide helpful tips for safe enjoyment of the water.
Rocky contributes to the Corps continued success by representing the South Atlantic Division on the
Operations Project Manager (OPM) Community of Practice Advisory Board, providing guidance and
support to OPMs nationwide. Its Rockys way of providing support to the next generation of OPMs.
Even with all his successes, Rocky is modest of his accomplishments and points to the contributions of
his team at Philpott, referring to them as the real winners. "We are all in this together," he said. "I just
do my best to make sure everyone achieves what they want to achieve. The best thing I can do for my
team is to stay out of their way."