Part X: 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: Dam it man!

It was now August of 1982, roughly 15 years since the Jackson Parish Watershed omission received the first appropriation and 11 years since construction first began. During that time many delays had been experienced due to a myriad of reasons including a political spat, lawsuits, bankruptcy of a construction company, lapses in funding and technical problems.

None of that mattered at the present though to the nearly 500 people that gathered at the proposed dam lock site for groundbreaking and dedication ceremonies. Also in attendance was several state dignitaries, including Governor Dave Treen, Representative Jamie Fair, Senator Charles Barham and Jonesboro native E.L. “Bubba” Henry, currently the state commissioner of administration. The event was in celebration of the start of construction on the dam that Patterson Enterprises had won the bid on for 4.8 million dollars.

The contract was awarded following Treen appropriating 11.4 million dollars for the project and giving approval for the repair of roads leading to the facility. A meeting of state administration officials, Representative Jamie Fair, Caney Lake Watershed Commission Chairman, Woody McDonald and Patterson Enterprises cemented things but like everything else involving the lake, even that had its problems. The reason was that extra scrutiny had been applied to the bid that had come in far less than what other 10 companies had submitted and much lower than the 7.7 million dollars state officials had estimated it would cost.

“I couldn’t be happier,” McDonald was quoted as saying in an August 25th article in the Shreveport Times. “People were beginning to wonder if this day would ever happen.”

One in attendance was even quoted as saying it was a miracle, but Representative Fair quickly said that it wasn’t divine intervention that led to this day but primarily the work of one man who never gave up in his quest to see the lake built.

“No one had done more for the birth of Caney Lake than Woody McDonald,” said Fair. “He has worked diligently for nearly two decades to help us to reach this day.”

McDonald quickly diverted the praise to the landowners who sacrificed their land and waited patiently for the lake to be completed, many who could have pulled the plug after the original time frame for the lake to be built had expired.

“People sold land for $100.00 an acre to make this possible,” McDonald was quoted as saying. “Now that was a real sacrifice.”

The comment drew several loud AMENS from the crowd.

Completion of the lake was now estimated to be sometime late in 1983 providing three potential problems could be resolved. One was the weather had to cooperate during the winter, the other the Tenneco pipelines had to be secured and finally a road had to be built linking LA Hwy 34 and Hwy 4.

Naturally the weather was bad, Tenneco dragged their feet in getting the pipelines secured and the finalization of the road was delayed which caused the estimated date of completion to be pushed back until mid 1985.

In a January 15th, 1985 article in the Shreveport Times, McDonald indicated that two more problems had arisen. One was that the original land purchase agreement stipulated that the lake be flooded by January 1, 1985 or the property would revert back to the original owners. The other was that two years prior, the LA Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism along with the Department of Public Works had put two million dollars in the budget for the state park. Now they d9dn’t have the money.

As one local public official said the completiton of the lake was so close but yet so far away. It was a good description but through the efforts of McDonald and the lake commission, who continued to lobby the landowners and state officials, another in the long line of hurdles were cleard and the problems were resolved.

This set the stage for another ceremony on March 1st, this one commemorating the closing of the spillway gates. As irony would have it, the Governor of Louisiana who was supposed to be the one who officially closed the gates, was none other than Edwin Edwards who after being required to sit out a term, won re-election again in 1984.

Roughly 150 people braving frigid weather attended the ceremony leading up to the time when the gates were officially to be closed. As it turned out the gates had already been closed the day before.

“The day before, I loaded up my generator, got my big drill and socket set, went out there and closed the gates myself,” laughed McDonald during a recent interview with the Jackson Parish Journal. “Maybe I shouldn’t have done that, but there was no way that I was going to give Edwards the honor of closing the gates after all the problems he had caused us.”

As it turned out, after all the years of battle between the two, apparently the antagonism was felt both ways.

When McDonald took the podium and stated that “we were going to bury all political hatchets” Edwards was overheard to say “I would like to bury a hatchet in him.”

The lake started filling up and while it didn’t rise as quickly as some would have liked, the day finally came when the reservoir was full. What has transpired since is almost amazing as the story behind the lake being built.

It was hoped that Caney Lake would become a mecca for fishing. The reality exponentially exceeded the expectations as 17 of the top 20 biggest bass ever caught in the state of Louisiana came from Caney Lake in just a manner of a few years. The lakes noteriaty and fame skyrocketed across the nation. There were so many anglers flocking to the lake that finding a parking space at Brown’s Landing was like winning the lottery. Professional anglers who hosted nationally syndicated fishing shows like Bill Dance and Grits Gresham was one of  mamy who fished and filmed documentaries on the incredible size of fish being caught almost daily. 

Then something took place that nearly ruined the lake as a fishery and killed the progress and financial gain the parish was experiencing took place  Next week: – Little causes lots of problems!

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