Thomasville, NC An old rock quarry serves as an unexpected yet perfect setting for all types of scuba divers. Beginners can learn the ropes and expert divers come from surrounding states to see sunken boats cars and even a 50 foot Navy Ship!
Blue Stone is the finest diving and training facility in the area. Divers come from all over North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia to utilize this magnificent fresh water diving facility. Some of Blue Stone’s features include: wrecks, platforms for classes, confined water area, a floating dock with attached platform, underwater buoyancy course, and a man-made underwater cavern. Some of the ’topside’ features include: full line of rental gear, air and NITROX fills, classrooms, bunk house, hot showers, restrooms, drink machines, snacks, and even a tram system to carry you and your gear from the dive center to the entry points of the quarry!
Emerging from the sizable reception center, divers load their tanks into racks on the baggage car, gear bags on the shelf above. Once everyone is seated comfortably in the shaded passenger car, the tram driver revs up the engine and moves out. It takes only a few minutes to deliver the appreciative divers to one of four entry areas spread around Blue Stone’s shores. This direct-to-the-doorstep service is only one of the pleasant surprises divers find at Blue Stone Dive Resort, near Thomasville, North Carolina. If the name Thomasville sounds familiar, it’s because you may very well own furniture that bears that brand. High Point, only a stone’s throw north, is the hub of the U.S. furniture manufacturing industry. This area is known as the Piedmont Triad,Winston-Salem, Greensboro and High Point,a region of majestic pine and southern hardwood forests sandwiched between the North Carolina coastal plains and the Blue Ridge Mountains. Scuba classes and recreational divers from North Carolina, Maryland, Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee visit Blue Stone regularly. At the Lake A former slate quarry, the lake occupies 19.5 acres (7.8 hectares) of the 305-acre (122-hectare) property. Owned by Martin-Marietta, the flooded quarry was used at one time by the Piedmont Dive and Rescue Association for training exercises. In 1994, after several changes in ownership, the lake and surrounding acreage were purchased by Robert Outlaw, owner of Blue Dolphin divers in Greensboro and Winston-Salem. Bob Outlaw has been associated with diving for 40 years, as dive industry manager for Ingersoll-Rand and Eagle compressors and a 30-year PADI course director. Blue Stone Dive Resort, named for the particular type of blue slate found in the quarry, represents the fulfillment of 15 years of planning for Outlaw. The dive tram runs continuously between the reception center and four entry areas. The main area is highlighted by the resort’s trademark, a working lighthouse. The beacon is actually an obsolete fire truck "gumball machine," but that doesn’t matter, as there is no boat traffic on the lake. The 24-foot (7.3-m) lighthouse is Outlaw’s innovative way to hide the pump for the nearby fountain that sprays 10-foot (3-m) jets of lake water into a decorative recirculating basin. Lined with picnic tables and landscaping, this area is designated primarily for training. A freeform concrete slab allows students easy entry into the 20-foot-by-40-foot (6-m-by-12-m) confined water area. When the quarry was being mined, the access road to the bottom began here, spiraling gently around the near vertical walls to reach the bottom at 87 feet (26 m). Now bounded by slate boulders and a wood-and-steel dock, the pool-like training area slopes from 3 feet (1 m) to 18 feet (5.5 m) deep. Beyond the confined-water area, the walls of the quarry rise steeply. At the top of the slope, more picnic tables mark the entrance to a newly installed staircase leading down the 45-foot (14-m) cliff to a floating dock, which is also accessible via a gravel ramp. Designed for classes, the large square dock is open in the middle. Directly below, suspended at 35 feet (10.6 m) is a 10-foot-by-8-foot (3-m-by-2.4-m) training platform. Between the two entry areas, marked by lime-green surface buoys, are two more training platforms, each 10 feet by 20 feet (3 m by 6 m). A small orange buoy indicates the location of a 28-foot (8.5-m) Trojan cruiser lying on the bottom at 35 feet (10.6 m). At the opposite end of the oblong lake are two additional entry areas. One, reached by a wooden staircase, is adjacent to a manmade waterfall that cascades down the naturally terraced slate wall. An eye-catching feature, the falls also serve as an outlet for a storage tank atop the cliff that filters tree pollen and debris from the lake’s surface. The fourth entry is from a wooden dock into a shallow underwater plateau, never reaching more than 35 feet (10.6 m) deep. Not far from the dock is a 10-station buoyancy course. Two more 10-foot-by-10-foot training platforms and a 36-foot (11-m) Chris Craft can be easily spotted near surface buoys. Just off the edge of the shallow plateau, at a depth of 55 feet (17 m), rests a 50-foot (15-m) PT boat. While the resort’s underwater enhancements are well-suited for Open Water and advanced training, there are also features geared toward technical training. Between the waterfall and dock entryways lies a 140-foot- (42-m-) long artificial cavern, created by welding together steel gas tanks that are 10 feet in diameter. Escape holes have been cut at 40-foot (12-m) intervals. Yet another training platform sits atop this structure. Search-and-recovery classes can practice finding and raising an outboard motor, a searchlight and a car that have been placed around the lake bottom. In addition to the numerous manmade attractions, Blue Stone’s lake supports a healthy population of freshwater fishes. Largemouth bass, bluegill and crappie have migrated here naturally, apparently by eggs in bird droppings or through the two springs from which the lake is constantly refreshed. Japanese koi, introduced for their colorful appearance, also thrive. Every year in late summer, nonstinging freshwater jellyfish invade the lake. About the size of a quarter, at least 1,000 of the harmless creatures float throughout the lake for about two weeks, and then disappear as mysteriously as they arrived. Visibility in Blue Stone’s lake averages 30-40 feet (9-12 m). When the resort opens in the spring, surface water temperature is near 64 degrees Fahrenheit (18 degrees Celsius). By midsummer it rises to a toasty 86 F (30 C). Like most temperate lakes, there is a thermocline. Below 45 feet (14 m) the water remains in the mid-40s F (6-8 C) year-round.
One of the most striking features of Blue Stone Dive Resort is the massive 12,400-square-foot (1,116-sq-m-) steel frame structure that houses most of the resort’s topside facilities. Built by an interim owner as a warehouse, it now contains the reception desk, several classrooms and training areas, changing rooms and restrooms, a lounge area, snack machines, dive accessory sales, rental gear storage, a regulator repair facility, tank filling stations, an expansive compressor room, offices and a garage area for work vehicles and machinery. Despite its size, the structure no longer feels like a warehouse; all areas open to divers are spotlessly maintained and decorated in a tropical theme. The indoor air station is constructed to prevent injury in case a cylinder fails during filling. Four brightly painted compressors supply the gas storage system with an ample supply of air, nitrox and on occasion, other mixed gases for technical training. In addition to recreational diver and instructor classes, the building contains facilities for training compressor mechanics. In a specially designed computer-equipped classroom, Outlaw conducts Scubapro’s repair technician workshops for the eastern United States. Adjacent to the Blue Stone lighthouse is a second, much smaller building that houses a classroom, restrooms, hot showers and a bunkhouse. For $15 per night, divers can stay overnight in one of four rooms outfitted with two bunk beds each. A small sitting area equipped with TV and VCR and a kitchen area with refrigerator and microwave complete the bunkhouse section. Outside are showers and an equipment rinse tank.
The five permanent staff members at Blue Stone are all trained in first aid and CPR, and emergency oxygen is available on site. The nearest hospital is 10 minutes away in Thomasville. Blue Stone has not experienced a decompression accident in its six-year history, but should the need arise, Duke University, the home of Divers Alert Network (DAN), is reachable by helicopter.
The dive resort opens each spring on Easter weekend and is open weekends through October. By request, the facility will open weekdays for groups of at least two divers. Admission is $20 per diver per day. Hours are from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday night dives are available for groups. Children under 12 are not allowed.