The history of Central Louisiana is inextricably tied to the bodies of water that have served as the basis for travel, exploration, commerce and recreation for centuries. Much of our way of life revolves around the resources and opportunities afforded by our waterways, and there are many! Here are just a few of Cenla’s bayous and rivers and lakes open for all of us to enjoy!
The largest and most distinctive waterway in Central Louisiana is 65-mile-long Toledo Bend Reservoir, which encompasses an impressive 186,000 acres of land and combines with the Sabine River to form the westernmost border of the state. Toledo Bend is the largest man-made body of water in the South and the fifth largest in surface acres in the United States. A half century ago, the Louisiana State Legislature created the Sabine River Authority, followed by the enactment of the Sabine River Compact by the United State Congress a year later. The Compact was established to ensure the equitable apportionment of the waters of the Sabine River between Louisiana and Texas. It set in motion the processes that would lead to the eventual damming of the Sabine River in 1963, thereby creating the Reservoir.
The Toledo Bend Project, funded and operated jointly by the Sabine River Authorities of Louisiana and Texas was conceived, developed and licensed for the production of hydroelectric power and water conservation for the express purpose of serving the long-term municipal, industrial, and irrigation needs of the area. The sale of the hydroelectric power generated by the dam is still the primary source of funding for the operation and maintenance of the Toledo Bend Project. These revenues, combined with the sale of approximately nine billion gallons of water to industries and municipalities, allow the Sabine River Authority (SRA) to operate on self-generated revenues, meaning zero tax expense or state appropriations. In fact, Toledo Bend Reservoir is the only public water conservation and hydroelectric project in the nation to be undertaken without federal participation in its permanent financing.
The SRA’s responsibilities are considerable and include the operation and maintenance of the hydroelectric generation station, spillway gates, half of the 1,200 miles of shoreline, and the more than 10,000 buoys that outline the approximately 180 miles of boat lanes which improve and make safe navigation on the Louisiana portion of the Reservoir. In addition to the great benefits for commerce, the Reservoir is an invaluable resource of recreation and economic development opportunities for everyone. The SRA operates eight recreational sites on the Louisiana shoreline which provide 28 cabins, 276 RV pads, 15 boat launches, four beach areas and four fishing piers.
Toledo Bend is one of the crown jewels of Sportsman’s Paradise. First and foremost, Toledo Bend Lake is a world class bass fishing lake. Though bass is the most popular catch on the Bend, the Reservoir is also home to crappie, bream, white bass, striped bass and catfish, among other species. The Toledo Bend Lake Association offers a lunker bass program designed to help memorialize the big catch while encouraging the release of trophy fish back into the wild. Toledo Bend attracts approximately 100 large regional and national fishing tournaments every year, for both amateurs and professionals alike.
Fishing isn’t the only fun to be found on the Bend. Over the past three decades, the popularity of watersports has skyrocketed, enabled greatly by the Sabine River Authority’s ambitious clearing and buoy marking efforts undertaken in the 1990s, thereby making many parts of the lake safe for skiing, tubing, boating, boogie boarding, and more! Visitors can enjoy a relaxing canoe or kayak paddle or feed their need for speed atop a speed boat or jet ski. Catch some rays as you bask on one of the four sandy beaches. Then beat the heat with a cool swim in one of the designated swimming areas that Toledo Bend has to offer at Cypress Bend Park, South Toledo Bend State Park, Pleasure Point Park, San Miguel Park or the SRA Tourist Center.
Make a long weekend of your visit at one of the fantastic resorts and campgrounds along the Reservoir. From swimming, boating, and fishing to picnicking, camping, hunting, and sightseeing, Toledo Bend offers something for everyone. ATV trails at South Toledo Bend State Park and Cow Bayou Wilderness Area, hiking trails, biking, and birding opportunities are available for the adventurous. Likewise, RV parks are located along the shady forested shoreline and offer a variety of amenities to select from, allowing the camper the opportunity to map out all of their needs for a family fun trip.
For directions to state parks, help with planning your visit and find more information, call (318) 256-4112 or visit www.srala-toledo.com.
The Red River runs through the very heart of Central Louisiana. The J. Bennett Johnston Navigation Project created a navigable Red River from the Old River Control Structure to Shreveport. The $1.9 billion Red River Waterway Project, authorized by Congress in 1968 and completed in 1994, added a series of five lock and dam complexes to the river. These structures perform a stair step effect on the river, creating controllable pools and passageways for river traffic. By making the Red River navigable, new industries have been attracted to the region. Typically, newly attracted industries use the river to ship inbound and outbound cargo. Others do not directly use the river but still benefit from water-compelled rates (i.e., they use the option of barge transportation in negotiating more favorable rates from other transportation entities, like rail and trucking).
Another major part of the navigation project was to enhance recreational opportunities along the Red River in Central Louisiana. The Red River Waterway Commission and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have worked together to create five Lock & Dams along the river along with over 20 recreation areas. The recreation areas give citizens the opportunity to pursue many recreational interests within close proximity of the Red River.
Today, you can plan your own adventure along the Red River! Whether you spend the day fishing or camping with your family for the weekend, you can experience it along this productive waterway. Set out on the hiking trail at Ben Routh Recreation Area for a close-up look at nature or cast your fishing pole from the banks of the river in nearby Marksville. The Ben Routh Recreation Area features a 4-lane boat launch, boat dock, cooking grills, 25 Picnic tables, two playgrounds, ball fields, comfort stations, a pavilion and great hiking trails.
Pack a picnic lunch for your family and spend the day swimming and waterskiing at Fort Buhlow in Pineville, where visitors will find a 3-lane boat launch, boat dock, three picnic shelters, hiking trails, cross country course, playgrounds, grills, a 36-old disc golf course and more!
Boat in to the Alexandria Levee Park for a bit of live entertainment at the city’s riverfront Amphitheatre. Home to festivals and concerts throughout the year, the Amphitheatre is currently slated for significant upgrades beginning this year. Plans also call for the facility to offer a specific House Set-up as well as a Road Show set-up. The House Set-up will be designed to cater to events featuring normal speech, choir performances and amateur-level musical performances with or without an additional sound system. The Road Show Set-up, on the other hand, will include additional sound, lighting and power infrastructure to facilitate performances by professional entertainers who typically have specialty lighting and sound equipment.
In addition to a brand new band shell cover, which will provide patrons the highest quality sound performance, other improvements in the project include new entranceways to the Amphitheater as well as improved access to the area with Z ramps going up the levee. Construction is expected to start in the Fall and take approximately one year to complete
In Grant Parish, the Colfax Recreation Area boasts a 25-site RV park featuring a boat launch and floating dock, two playground areas, a wash house and picnic facilities.
Continuing up the river, the Red Bayou Recreation Area is a paradise for the avid sportsman. The 2-lane boat launch and picnic facilities complement this great fishing spot in Natchitoches that you won’t want to miss!
Visit www.redriverwaterway.com or download the Red River Waterway Mobile App to get directions to each of the dozen-plus Red River Recreation Areas in Cenla.
In 2020, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) is celebrating the 50th anniversary of Louisiana’s Scenic Rivers Act. The Scenic Rivers Program preserves, protects, develops, reclaims, and enhances the wilderness qualities, scenic beauties, and ecological regimes of designated free-flowing Louisiana rivers, streams, bayous, and segments thereof. It is one of the largest, if not the largest, programs of its kind in the country.
Approximately 3,000 miles of water are currently designated as Scenic Rivers in Louisiana, including a great diversity of waterbody types, habitats, and geographic areas throughout the state. In Cenla, these include Kisatchie Bayou in Natchitoches Parish with its fast running, upland streams complete with waterfalls, Bayou Cocodrie in Natchitoches and Rapides Parishes, Beckwith Creek in Beauregard and Calcasieu Parishes, portions of the Calcasieu River in Rapides and Vernon, Big Creek into Little River in Grant Parish, Allen and Vernon’s Six and Ten Mile Creeks, and many more throughout the state.
The Scenic Rivers Program offers a unique opportunity for individuals and communities to get involved in protecting, conserving, and preserving two of Louisiana’s greatest natural resources—its water and its wilderness.
Certain activities that could have detrimental ecological impacts such as channelization, reservoir construction, commercial clear-cutting of timber within 100 feet of the low watermark, and the use of motor vehicles which degrade the ecological integrity of the waterway on designated Scenic Rivers are prohibited. Other activities on or near these waterbodies require Scenic Rivers Permits.
LDWF requires Best Management Practices for many activities near designated Scenic Rivers to avoid or minimize their impacts. Landowners with property adjacent to designated Scenic Rivers may wish to enter into scenic and/or surface servitude agreements with LDWF to provide additional protection for these areas. In addition, individuals and communities can help by using these waterbodies and their adjacent lands in responsible ways, initiating river cleanup projects, and reporting conditions or activities that threaten these rivers to LDWF at (225) 765-2642. Perhaps the greatest contribution that any of us can make is to simply spend time on these beautiful rivers, streams, and bayous to appreciate their integral roles in our way of life and quality of life in Louisiana.
Indian Creek Recreation Area is nestled into the Alexander State Forest, located between I-49 and Highway 165 in Rapides Parish. This sprawling area encompasses 100 acres of developed recreation facilities, 250 acres of primitive camping area, and the 2,250 acre Indian Creek Lake. The recreation area contains over 100 campsites with water and electricity. Other amenities include three beach areas, five bathrooms across the main park, laundry facilities, playground equipment, handicap parking, boat launch, Wi-Fi (in RV area) and a covered pavilion for rental. There are trails available for scouting out the various plant and tree species and abundant wildlife. This area is also home to the red-cockaded woodpecker. Trees marked with white paint indicate the homes of the endangered woodpecker.
For a Day Pass of just $7.00 per vehicle, visitors can launch a boat or fish from the banks of the lake, visit the RV or primitive campsite areas, enjoy scenic trails, hike, picnic or bike for the day. Veterans, with valid military ID, enjoy 50% off day-use fees. A special veteran entrance permit allows any disabled Louisiana resident who is a veteran of the armed forces of the United States exemption from the day-use entrance fee. Applications for a veteran permit may be made to the Louisiana Department of Veterans’ Affairs service office serving the parish in which the applicant resides. Proper picture identification is required.
In addition to daily use, pavilions may be reserved for special events, and it is recommended that pavilion reservations be made as far in advance as possible. The pavilion overlooks the lake and has a spacious grassy area for activities. There are numerous picnic tables available for use, a covered area for the use of a large barbecue pit, and also has a fire ring. This pavilion also has restroom facilities. The Large Pavilion rental fee is $100 per day plus a $50.00 refundable cleaning deposit (refunded if area is picked up after use).
A smaller pavilion is tucked away in an area that offers both privacy and some of the most beautiful lake views. The rental fee is $30.00 per day plus a $15.00 refundable cleaning deposit (refunded if area is picked up after use). All visitors at Indian Creek are required to pay the $7.00 per vehicle entrance fee.
Primitive Camping Area is designed primarily for tent camping, but towed campers are permitted to use this area as well. The rental fee is $14.00 per tent, per night. Reservations are not accepted in the primitive camping area; it is available on a first come, first served basis. There are two sets of latrines located in the primitive area (guests are welcome to use the showers at either bath house located inside the park). Several fire rings are located throughout this area. There is no electricity or water in the primitive area, except for water stations at the latrines. Rally camping (group camping) is also available; a fee of $50.00 per night is assessed to the group for the exclusive use of an area. Rally camping is available for tent camping in the primitive area of the campsite only.
Reservations, Maps, Nature Trail Guidance, Guest Guide, Rules and Regulations, plus much more are available online at ldaf.state.la.us/about/indian-creek-recreation-area/ and keep up with all the latest events by liking @IndianCreekRecArea on Facebook.
All this and we’ve just scratched the surface of the great ways life on and near the water enhances our shared experiences throughout Central Louisiana. Get out and explore. Everywhere you look, there are bayous and rivers and lakes. And oh my, are they a lot of fun!