Sunday, April 11, 2021

Re-imagining Loy Lake

When venerable old Loy Lake was  impounded back in 1933, The Civilian Conservation Corps and the WPA contributed to build a jewel of a park. The park was festooned with hand hewn red rock picnic tables, bridges, and ledges.  There was a red rock tower constructed for who knows what purpose.  On the west end of the lake, there was a forty or fifty foot square platform built right out over the lake.  Photos from that era show scads of swimsuit-clad teens dancing, swimming, and generally enjoying this little jewel of a lake.  The lake, though, has fallen on hard times.  Administered by Grayson County and home to the local stock barns and a rodeo ground, Loy Lake and the park itself have seen better days.  The dance floor burned up, leaving only a few old charred stumps in the water.  Floods over the last ten years did incalculable damage to the park and even gouged up the ninety year old concrete spill way.  The rock dam and retaining wall, however, were spared. Pioneer Village, a collection of historic old Texoma structures, needs ongoing attention and repair to preserve the relics.  The park still sees quite a bit of use for picnickers and other assorted day users.  Each November, the Loy Lake Christmas Lights spring up, and continue to be heavily visited every year. 

I first started to frequent the lake in 2003.  As a runner, I have circled the old trails a million times.  You can cover over four miles in the park without ever retracing a step. The last few years, circumnavigating the trail on the south end of the lake has been more difficult due to damage from the floods of the 2010's. A local Boy Scout troop had built serviceable wooden bridges in the three areas where the trail crosses over Loy Creek. The photos above show the status of those bridges this morning.  About a hundred yards of my trail hike was through mud. I thoroughly enjoyed it-isn't that what trail running is about?  Also, as a  fly fisher , kayaker, and jon boater, I have discovered the old lake's most treasured secret.  It is full of fish.  There are a couple of golden periods through the year that can be other-worldly for bass, channel cat, crappie, and many species of sunfish. By mid-May, though, the lake becomes choked with moss and goop.  The fishing can still be good, but constantly battling slime seems to take some of the fun out of the whole deal.  The current recorded lake record for largemouth bass is a shade under eight pounds.  I have caught a couple that exceeded that mark, and I know a guy who took a nine pounder out of the honey hole.  (He put it right back).  I caught a channel cat of about ten pounds on a mop fly and a four weight glass rod a few years back.  People who fish the lake, particularly fly fishers, don't talk about it much.  Perhaps I've already said too much.

Recently, Grayson County ceded ownership and management of the lake to the City of Denison.  I am optimistic that our city government will administer Loy Lake with the same excellence and passion that we find in our other magnificent parks.  And, as a Denisonite who has as much experience in and around Loy Lake as anyone over the last eighteen years, I felt compelled to offer my thoughts on what the future could hold.  

First, there is a matter of philosophy.  Our community is blessed with a world class park for all sorts of athletic endeavors.  Texoma health Foundation Park, or THF, is spectacular in every sense of the word.  Waterloo Park, another stunner of a lake entirely within the city limits, recently pulled off a major coup by  obtaining the rights to the old Katy Railroad Bed.  A gorgeous concrete path has been poured from Day Street to Waterloo, and then on down south to Loy Lake Road. As I write this, the longest self-supported bridge in Texas is being placed over Loy Lake Road down past the Armory.  It is spectacular. 

Concrete surfaces, though,

are death on an aging runner's bones, especially feet, ankles, and knees.  And this brings me to the philosophical point I mentioned above-Leave Loy Lake as natural as possible.  We have miles of  paved trails in this town.  Leave a little nature for the trail runners and mountain bikers. 

As for improvements, I have a few ideas.  First, let's start with the boat ramp.  It is primarily used for kayaks and jon boats (no gasoline powered motors allowed on the lake). A double concrete ramp, with a rough surface, of course, would be ideal in my opinion.   Caliche and gravel are ok, but would require constant attention. A courtesy dock extending twelve or fifteen feet would be very helpful.  Most importantly, though, would be a giant sign advising "No Parking On The Boat Ramp". Here's a shot from this morning-a lovely young couple had scaled the dam and were fishing halfway down.  They left their

car here.  Right smack dab in the middle of the ramp.  Don't do that. 

Speaking of scaling the dam, it can be a difficult proposition if the water is high.  Here's what it looks like today:

Those stone steps are about eighteen inches wide.  That's a pretty good balancing act for an older dude with a fly rod in his hand, or a runner in a hurry to make a time.  As I see it, there are two options to make access easier for hikers, runners, fishers, or anybody else.  First, and obvious, is a second stair case.  This is the area that was ravaged by floods a few years ago, to the point of ripping up the spillway.  So, any structure would have to be either indestructible, or expendable and easily replaced-a simple wooden staircase.  There is another access to the dam at the end of this retaining wall-

but that path is rough and unimproved and frankly snaky.  And adds a hundred yards to your carry for picnickers and fishermen. Nevertheless, cleaning and repairing that path is a good option. 

Now-how about making the lake more usable for landlocked anglers?  Adding a couple of piers around the lake would certainly be beneficial.  Maybe middle of the dam and here on the south bank.  And, wouldn't it be cool to drive up some summer evening and find kids hanging out on a fifty by fifty deck, built right out over the west end, down from the pavilion?

Finally, let's talk about the health of the water itself.  I've always heard that the levels of mercury and sulfur from the old timber operations make consumption of fish from Loy Lake to be a dicey proposition. The weeds and moss of summer cause the lake to lose much of her charm as the summer wears on.  And, the siltation from a hundred years of floods and droughts have cost the old girl much of her depth and clarity. There are ways to fix these issues-I just don't know what they are. Perhaps the best thing we could offer the lake is expert management from water, fish, and wildlife biologists to insure the old girl stays healthy and vibrant for another hundred years.  

These are my ruminations after a morning of exploring the park.  Others will have different, probably better ideas.  We have an opportunity, with a little imagination and foresight, to make this beauty sparkle again, and for a long, long time. We owe Grayson County a debt of gratitude for the gift they have given us, and for their stewardship over the past eighty-eight years.  Now the ball is in the city's court.  I expect they'll make us proud. 

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