Part V: Woody to Water! – The Chronology of Caney Lake

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!

With the year of 1975 reaching the summertime season the construction of Caney Lake was now on “all systems go!” The land had been secured, the plans for clearing had been approved, the bids had been advertised and now all that had to be done was the letting of the contract.

It was also during that time the Jackson Parish Police Jury reassigned Woody McDonald to a new five year terms to the Jackson Parish Watershed Commission. This was an important move as he had been instrumental in original planning and development stage and was well versed in what had already taken place and what should happen moving forward.

In the July 4th edition of the Shreveport Journal, McDonald was qouted telling the Jonesboro Lions Club during their monthly meeting that “Jackson Parish should have its Caney Lake by 1977 and certainly no later than 1978.” The main reason for the optimistic projection was the news that $1,700,000.00 had been officially allocated by the State Bureau of Outdoor Recreation.

The exact plans called for 4,971 acres to be inundated with water, considered to favorably compare in size to existing north Louisiana waterways, Lake Claiborne and Saline Lake. The dam site would cover 52 acres consisting of a dam that was to be 6,500 feet long and comprising of two million cubic yards of dirt.

Additional plans called for the lake to cross Hwy 4, requiring one large bridge and two smaller ones to be constructed with the water to spread about a mile north of the road and five miles south of it. The average depth was slated to be 16 feet with the deepest part near the dam to be at 55 feet. Primary tributaries would be Caney Creek, Smith Branch, Cypress Creek and Hancock Creek.

Three hundred acres had also been set aside for a state-maintained park site that would be available for both day and night use but the money allocated had nothing to do with that. “The park site will cost much more than this,” said McDonald in the article.

On October 3rd of 1975, state Representative E.L. “Bubba” Henry of Jonesboro announced that the Louisiana Department of Public Works had accepted the bid from Tobilar Inc., out of Rayne, LA for clearing work in the Caney Lake Reservior.

Tobilar’s bid was $675.00 per acre to clear the 83 acres of dam site and $284.00 per acre for 2,470 acres located in three tracts of the lake site. The total bid amount came to $757,505.00, far less than the $1,082,860.00 submitted by the next lowest competitor.

The contract called for the removal of all trees, brush, vines, logs, vegetation, undergrowth, loose stumps and other floatable material and fences within the limits of the stated acreage. All trees, undergrowth and sound stumps were to be cut flush with the ground where practical. Where conditions made this impossible no more than 18 inches were to be allowed to protrude up.

As the calendar rolled into the spring of 1976, questions started to arise as to why it was taking so long for the work to be done. One reason was that since the contract hadn’t been let until October, Tolibar Inc. was dealing with winter weather which caused delays. Another reason for the “slow go” was by design to avoid the errors made when other lakes had been constructed.

“We are trying to capitalize on everyone else’s mistakes,” McDonald was quoted in a March 26th, Monroe New Star article. “We are going to circumvent all the problems they have had since they flooded theirs.”

One situation they wanted to avoid related to the potential for good fishing.

“We have learned that it is better to completely cut, remove and burn all the debris instead of just hurrying and leave all that behind,” McDonald stated. “This takes longer but will provide the lake with a better oxygen content.”

While all attempts were made to avoid mistakes, a most egregious one soon would be brought to light.

Next Week – Hubba Bubba!

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