Caney Lakes Recreation Area
Caney Lakes Recreation Area, located in the Kisatchie National Forest north of Minden in Webster Parish in northwestern Louisiana, offers opportunities for bicycling, hiking, picnicking, camping, swimming, boating, water skiing, fishing, and hunting. A triathlon is held annually in August. Surrounded by wooded hills, the shoreline is easily accessed, and the landscape and water are scenic.
Though there are two lakes – Upper and Lower Caney – most refer to the park in the singular. Lower Caney is the larger and more visited unit closer to the main entrance. The Sugar Cane National Recreation Trail, named for the sugar cane that once grew in the area, winds its way around Lower Caney. Cotton was also grown there. The lakes total 350 acres (150 hectares).
Land for the lakes was acquired in 1934 and 1935 through the Great Depression-era Resettlement Administration. The site for the lakes was chosen in a low area that contained the three tributaries: Caney Creek (which crosses the Lewisville Road), Cow Creek, and Butler Creek. The dredging of the lakes was undertaken by primitive methods, with trees leveled by cross-cut saws. Plow mules were used to remove the dirt. The soil was placed on dirt sleds as the mules slowly pulled away the debris.
Hugh Garland Dunn, Sr. (1900–1986), a planer mill operator, cut the timber used to build the twenty-five cabins and the bridges at the lakes. Dunn remained after the construction of the facilities, employed in maintenance by the United States Soil Conservation Service. By the time of his retirement in 1965, he was the lakes' supervisor under the United States Forest Service.
Having first been run by the Soil Conservation Service, the lakes opened in 1938, and the Webster Parish Farm Bureau held a picnic there, one of the first events inside the grounds. In 1958, the Webster Parish Police Jury, under its president Leland G. Mims, proposed that a "permanent Forest Service operation" be established for Caney Lakes.
In 1948, Julius C. Salmon (1898–1970), formerly the manager of the local Chamber of Commerce office, was named the concessionaire, based on his competitive bid. Salmon held two ten-year leases, the second of which expired in 1967. Salmon handled the renting of the cabins, paddle boats, and swimming access. He and his wife, Ruby W. Salmon (1904–1968), a teacher at E.S. Richardson Elementary School in Minden, lived in a house at the lake. In November 1959, the United States Forest Service assumed the permanent custodianship of the lake.
In 1952, a Boy Scouts of America facility, Camp Yatasi, was opened at Caney Lake, and Governor-elect Robert F. Kennon, a Webster Parish native, spoke at the formal dedication. The name "Yatasi" was chosen in a contest. The camp initially cost $75,000. It stopped operation in the early 1980s. The only remains are some cement pads of buildings and asphalt roads. Various churches also operate youth camps at the lakes.
In 1960, local musician and singer David Harlon Bailey (born 1940) recorded through the defunct Banner Records the instrumental entitled "Caney," dedicated to Caney Lakes. Bailey's former choir director at Minden High School, Benjamin Earle Cooke, Jr. (1923–2001), did the arrangement. Bailey spent a lot of time on the lakes when he was growing up, belonged to a skiing club, and was a lifeguard there.
In 1967, $750,000 worth of improvements were undertaken, primarily the upgrading of the water and sewerage systems. At the time, some two thousand visitors came to the park daily during the summers, with the majority on weekends. The Golden Age Passports, now called the "Senior Pass", then in use for those 62 and above, may have attracted more travelers and campers passing along Interstate 20 to Caney Lakes.
The lakes today
In 2009 and since, Caney Lakes and the regional Lake Bistineau were again engulfed by the non-native Giant Salvinia fern, which chokes up the water and reduces its level. The state has struggled to find a solution to the problem.
The Student Conservation Association in the summer of 2009 organized the clearing of the hiking trail, which had become overgrown by weeds. The trail is used mostly by bicyclists.
Fees are assessed by the Forest Service under the United States Department of Agriculture. Day-use rates are $3 per vehicle, and additional fees are levied for camping. The entrance is a self-service operation.
- "Kisatchie National Forest: Caney Ranger District". fs.fed.us. Retrieved August 26, 2009.
- Richard Bizier, Louisiana p. 396. Google Books. Retrieved August 27, 2009.
- "Attractions in Minden". mindenusa.com. Retrieved August 26, 2009.
- Webster Parish Police Jury, "The Depression Era", Respect for the Past, Confidence in the Future: Webster Parish Centennial, 1971, unnumbered pages
- Statement of William Thurston "Bill" Dunn (1931-2016), son of Hugh G. Dunn, Sr., Minden, Louisiana, September 4, 2009
- Minden Herald, July 29, 1938
- "Caney Lake May Remain Under U.S. Forest Service", Minden Press, May 12, 1958, p. 1
- "Social Security Death Index". ssdi.rootsweb.ancestry.com. Retrieved August 26, 2009.
- "Salmon Appointed Caney Lakes Manager Wednesday Night: Resigns Management of C. of C. Thursday," Minden Herald, April 16, 1948, p.1
- "Forest Service Requests Funds for Caney Lake Expansion", Minden Press, April 18, 1960
- Minden Press, April 18, 1960
- "Caney Lake Scout Camp dedicated", Shreveport Journal, May 4, 1952
- Statement of Virginia W. Bailey, Heflin, Louisiana, March 15, 2011
- "Improvements Costing $750,000 Called For in Caney Lakes Plan: District Ranger Outlines Work at Meeting Here", Minden Press-Herald, June 29, 1967, p. 1
- "Lake Bistineau – Salvinia Problem". Louisiana Sportsman. Retrieved August 26, 2009.