NOTE: Today most people only know that Caney Creek Reservoir and Caney Lake State Park is considered one of the jewels of Sportsman’s Paradise, as the state is called. Few remember the countless trials, tribulations, pitfalls and roadblocks that had to be overcome or the role that Woody McDonald played in changing the woods into water. This week – Clearing Hurdles!
The year was now 1974, almost a decade since the first plans to build Caney Lake had been cemented. Still, those heavily involved locally and down in Baton Rouge were basically pleased at the pace the project was moving forward at despite it seemingly was moving forward at a turtle’s pace.
They were especially pleased that what seemed to be the last major hurdle of securing the holdings of Tremont Lumber had finally been completed. Perhaps the happiest of all was Jackson Parish Watershed District (JPWD) Chairman, Woody McDonald.
“I can’t tell you how relieved I was when we finally finished negotiations with Tremont,” recalled McDonald. “When we first started talking to them, we thought we would get things handled in just a few meetings like we had done with the other companies who owned property where the lake was going to be.”
The time frame turned into weeks, then months. Finally Tremont, or rather it should be said Crown Zellerbach, who had purchased the holdings of Tremont while negotiations were going on, agreed to transfer their holdings to the JPWD.
“Talking with Tremont officials and those from Crown Zellerbach was as different as night and day,” laughed McDonald. “We had meeting after meeting with Tremont and never got anywhere with them. Then Crown Zellerbach bought their holdings and the next day their business affairs manager called me to say they were ready to deal.”
The date of September 19th was established for a meeting to be held to finalize negotiations. Attending was McDonald, Doug Berlin (Woodlands Division Manager for Tremont), Billy Weaver (Crown Zellerbach Business Affairs Manager), Lee Alford (Crown Zellerbach Real Estate Manager) and local state representative, who was now the Speaker of the House, E. L. “Bubba” Henry.
“I remember that day well,” said McDonald. “With the property in hand, we were now finally able to move forward with actual work and the pace of getting the lake built started to really pick up.”
For roughly ten years, the scores of people involved had been doing hard at it sitting across the table from each other in board rooms across the state, away from the eyes of those who had patiently been waiting. Often it had caused dismay and despite hearing that it would be so, led to wondering if there was ever really going to be a lake constructed.
The same ones who had “raised their eyebrows” were now smiling from ear to ear. This was because by the end of the year actual progress could be seen as much of the timber in the proposed watershed of the lake had been cut.
“For years all we had was plans and drawings on paper on what the lake would look like,” recalled McDonald. “It really felt good to see the lake actually taking shape.”
On February 10th of 1975 the Lake Commission adopted a resolution requesting the Department of Public Works advertise for bids for a contract to clear the remaining timber from the lake area. On March 6th, Representative “Bubba” Henry announced that almost all the requirements and specifications of the contract had been completed. He further stated that if everything continued according to plan that by later that spring the clearing should begin in full force.
If the past ten years had taught anything, it was that very seldom did anything involving Caney Lake go according to plan…..
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