Lake Wichita was a large man-made lake of 2,200-acre (890 ha) acres located some three miles southwest of Wichita Falls, Texas. Its creation was primarily the work of the business entrepreneur Joseph A. Kemp, who with his brother-in-law Frank Kell, is considered one of the principal founders of Wichita Falls in the early 20th century. In 1995, the dam and spillway were rebuilt lowering conservation elevation to 976', decreasing surface acreage to 1224 acres at full pool, and leaving average depth of four feet.
Lake Wichita is partly in both Archer and Wichita counties. In the late 1890s, while serving as the county treasurer of Wichita County, Joseph Kemp tried to raise funds by means of a bond issue to build a dam and reservoir across the Wichita River. The restored falls of this river can be viewed just off U.S. Route 287 near the Texas Tourist Bureau station in Wichita Falls. At the time, the still governing Texas Constitution of 1876 forbade bond issues in regard to the establishment of irrigation systems. In 1900, Kemp created the private Lake Wichita Irrigation and Water Company. By chance, Kemp located a basin where water had collected during a heavy rain which caused Holliday Creek to overflow. Kemp hence determined that this particular site would be ideal for the lake that he envisioned. By 1901, Lake Wichita had been fully dredged at a cost of $175,000. The lake drains 143 square miles.
In 1909, Wichita Falls established a municipal electric trolley route to the lake, where a colonnade pavilion of three stories was built to promote recreation and tourism. In 1912, the lake was sold to a private business, but the city re-acquired the property by bond issue in 1920. Soon an amendment to the state constitution was ratified to allow bond issues in the acquisition of irrigation systems. In 1921, the previous dirt dam was superseded by a new concrete structure.
In 1918, the former Lakeside Hotel on Lake Wichita burned. Though the structure was not rebuilt, crowds for many years trekked to the lake, particularly on special days. Trains from Fort Worth and other nearby cities brought in visitors prior to the widespread availability of automobiles and highways. In the late 1920s, the chamber of commerce sponsored occasional carnivals at the lake. Over time, visitors lost interest in Lake Wichita as a resort, and the abandoned pavilion was finally razed in 1955. In 1966, Wichita Falls began to sell lake water to a nearby generating plant. While the City of Wichita Falls continues to hold municipal drinking water rights, the lake is no longer used as a source of municipal water supply for Wichita Falls.
Current lake park use
Lake Wichita Park is a 234-acre (95 ha) park on the north shore of the lake. The park offers a 2.6 mile concrete hiking and bicycling trail that runs from the southern tip of the park at Fairway Avenue to the dam. The trail resumes northward to Lucy Park. The park has a playground, basketball goals, and multiple picnic areas. There is a 10-unit picnic shelter that can seat sixty persons and is available for renting. The park also has two lighted baseball and two-lighted softball fields, three lighted football fields, and an 18-hole disc golf course. The park has the only model airplane landing strip in the Texas state park system. There is an off-leash dog park.
Because of drought, the fish population in Lake Wichita has been damaged by golden alga blooms and periods of low dissolved oxygen. Therefore, the lake is not recommended in 2013 as a destination for fishing. When available, the fish population consists mostly of white bass, hybrid striped bass, channel catfish, and white crappie. Camping facilities are planned in the Lake Wichita Revitalization Master Plan but are not currently available.
A major project to fix Lake Wichita and return it to a viable recreational lake that provides social, recreational, environmental, and economic benefits to the community for another Century is well underway. The project specifics can be viewed at www.LakeWichita.org and donations can be made at www.crowdrise.com and searching for Lake Wichita.
In adjoining Clay County is the larger Lake Arrowhead State Park, a 524-acre (212 ha) development on Lake Arrowhead, which encompasses 14,390-acre (5,820 ha) of water. The lakeshore extends for 106 miles; the park offers bicycling, birding, boating, camping, canoeing, fishing, hiking, horseback riding, nature study, picnicking, swimming, and wildlife observation.
- "Brian Hart, "Joseph Alexander Kemp"". tshaonline.org. Retrieved April 17, 2013.
- "Lake Wichita". tshaonline.org. Retrieved April 17, 2013.
- The Texas State Historical Association bases its article on Lake Wichita from Louise Kelly, Wichita County Beginnings (Burnet, Texas, Eakin Press, 1982), and the Times Record News, May 15, 1957.
- "Lake Wichita Park". wichitafallstx.gov. Retrieved April 17, 2013.
- "Wichita Reservoir". tpwd.state.tx.us. Retrieved April 17, 2013.
- "Texas Panhandle Plains". texassportfishing.com. Retrieved April 17, 2013.
- "Lake Arrowhead State Park". wildtexas.com. Retrieved April 17, 2013.