Story by Luis Carrasco
When Sabine River Authority officials were planning the new Caney Point Recreation Area at the Lake Fork Reservoir, they knew it needed to be able to comfortably and efficiently host everything from community gatherings, outdoor activities, local and national fishing tournaments and more.
The centerpiece of the new facility — nearly five years in the making — is an 8,000-square-foot pavilion large enough to drive an 18-wheeler through. There’s a practical reason why the pavilion can accommodate a big rig — it makes setting up event stages easier. And Lake Fork has some large, high-profile events on the horizon, including a Bassmaster Elite Series tournament featuring a free concert by Neal McCoy on March 2.
The Caney Point Recreation Area, located west of Highway 154 in Wood County near Caney Creek, offers a six-lane boat ramp, three floating courtesy docks, a monument flagpole area, restrooms, the open-air pavilion and a parking lot for approximately 120 vehicles and boat trailers. “The opening of this new recreational facility will provide a first-class venue to host large-scale fishing tournaments and other large group events,” says David Montagne, executive vice president and general manager of the Sabine River Authority, which oversaw the facility’s development.
The project is part of the river authority’s economic development program to enhance recreational opportunities throughout the Sabine River Basin. The original plans for the Lake Fork upgrades were presented to the authority’s board of directors in 2018, says Troy Henry, Upper Basin regional manager for the Sabine River Authority. Once board approval was secured, development continued, and an official groundbreaking took place in 2020. A dedication ceremony last October brought the project to fruition.
“Lake Fork was built primarily for water supply. However, everyone acknowledges that the secondary benefits of this project — fishing and tourism — have a huge economic impact on our region,” Henry says.
Lake Fork was originally planned back in the 1970s as a cooling reservoir for a future nuclear power plant. The dam was finished in 1980 but plans for the power plant eventually fell through. That’s when Dallas entered the picture, Henry says. The city, about 70 miles west of the lake, agreed to pay off the construction debt in exchange for a water contract. The reservoir also provides water to nearby communities, which generates revenue for the Sabine River Authority operations.
Even without the development of the Caney Point Recreation Area, Lake Fork has attracted bass tournaments since 2007. At their peak, the tournaments and accompanying concerts drew up to 40,000 people over a weekend, Henry says.
While the musical component has been scaled down over the past few years, the tournaments still attract thousands of revelers and participants, making the need for developed infrastructure increasingly important. It wasn’t uncommon for rain to turn the pastures where people parked into a mud pit, Henry says, and there were additional safety concerns.
The Caney Point Recreation Area includes plenty of solid-surface parking as well as a turning lane off the highway for drivers to safely enter and exit the park. It also has a mile and a half of highway-style roadway back into the tournament venue, which allows for quick access by first responders in case of an emergency.
The Sabine River Authority also recently completed a makeover of the Swearingen Park Day-Use Recreation Area on Lak Fork. This park, located across State Highway 154 from the new Caney Point Recreation Area, was originally constructed in the 1990s.
A new inclusive handicapped-accessible playground structure has been installed, including a pour-in-place rubber safety surface. A splash park opened in the summer of 2023. Additional park improvements include covered picnic areas, a large group pavilion, a large handicapped-accessible fishing pier and 1-mile asphalt walking trail.
“The Caney Point Recreation Area project and the improvements at Swearingen Park offer our residents and visitors a great place for all kinds of activities such as fishing, concerts and tournaments, or a nice place for a picnic for families and where children can place,” Henry says.