No matter where you go on the 643 acres at Lake Claiborne State Park, you can see evidence of the work District Manager Charlie McKenzie has put into the improvements at the park. McKenzie, who has been with the park system for 27 years, served as Park Manager before being promoted about five years ago. Lonnie Dean is now Park Manager and is one of twelve full-time employees who oversee the upkeep of the park.
Each year Lake Claiborne State Park attracts more than 55,000 visitors, most within a 50-mile radius. In 1998, the total economic impact of the park to Claiborne Parish was $1,677,013--a figure which includes the "turnover" effect of money spent by park visitors. Each dollar spent by a nonresident visitor is new capital which may be turned over several times within a local economy.
Ten new cabins opened in Janruary 2001, and should improve those figures. The cabins are fully equipped with central air and heat, kitchens, fireplaces, screen porches, decks, and have access to a boat dock and pier. Near the cabins are paved parking areas for boats with electric outlets for charging batteries. McKenzie is especially proud of the "fish cleaning station" where fisherman can fish until "dark thirty" and still clean their fish before heading back to camp. Four counters inside a screened building surround a large disposal, with outlets for electric knives and two overhead, movable sprayers for washing the fish cleanings into the disposal, which then grinds and deposits them back into the lake.
In the fall of 1980, a master plan for the park was developed which included, not only the cabins, but a village group camping complex, an equestrian complex with stables and trails, and a boy scout outpost. A poster size copy of the plan still hangs on the wall of McKenzie's office. Although not part of the original plan, a golf course has also been discussed.
Since the Park opened in 1974,
bathrooms with hot showers have been added to the camping areas--one with laundry facilities. Boardwalks, gravel walking paths, and hiking trails connect the beach and picnic areas to the campgrounds. Playground equipment has been installed and a nice covered pavilion with lights, electricity and bathrooms can be reserved for company picnics or family reunions.
The concession building was recently expanded and upgraded to allow vendors to cook so visitors, who prefer not to cook while camping or swimming, won't have to.
Eighty-seven campsites with water and electricity, picnic tables, and barbeque grills are available. A carload of four can spend the day swimming, fishing, boating, picnicing, hiking, or just plain relaxing for a nominal fee. For those who want to really rough it, they can rent a boat or canoe and paddle to one of the primitive campsites located across from the beach area. Surf bikes, which are a variation of a paddlewheel, will be available for rent later this summer.
Park naturalist Chuck Jones provides a number of programs on Saturdays--from archaeology programs to guided nature hikes. These programs not only give campers something to do, but provide an opportunity for visitors to voice complaints or make suggestions for improving the park.
In May, program topics include aquatic life and the role it plays in the area's ecosystem, outdoor safety, use of a compass, and how to treat for snake and animal bites. There will also be a puppet show, fishing derby, and even a trip into the lives of frontiersmen who frequented the area in the late 1700s and early 1800s.
Statewide, Louisiana has thirty-one facilities which include seventeen state parks and a number of historic sites and preservation areas. Besides Lake Claiborne State Park, McKenzie's district includes Lake D'Arbonne State Park at Farmerville, Chemin-A-Haut State Park north at Bastrop, Lake Bruin State Park at Tallulah, Caney Creek Lake State Park at Chatham, Winter Quarter State Historic Site at Newellton, and Poverty Point State Commemorative Area northeast of Epps.
Thirty-five years ago in 1965, soon after Lake Claiborne was completed, Charlie's dad James McKenzie helped produce a promotional video for the new lake. It was hoped the video would spread the word about "Louisiana's most scenic lake."
Today, in spite of the thousands who visit the park, over half of the residents of Claiborne Parish have never utilized the facility. As in the words of a bumper sticker printed a number of years ago, Lake Claiborne still remains the "best kept secret in Louisiana." Lake Claiborne State Park Adds $1.6 Million To Local Economy In 1998 - Lake Claiborne Still "Best Kept Secret In Louisiana"
Lake Claiborne State Park
Another Jewel In Claiborne Parish
BY JIMMY DEAN, Feature Writer, The Guardian-Journal
Lake Claiborne State Park - (225 State Park Road, Homer, LA 71040; 318-927-2976 or 1-888-677-2524) is located in North Louisiana, seven miles southeast of Homer on LA 146. The park offers a multitude of recreational opportunities on and near the 6,400-acre Lake Claiborne. To reserve a campsite or the picnic pavilion, call 1-877-CAMP-N-LA toll free (877-226-7652).
That is how the Louisiana State Parks website (www.lastateparks.com) describes Lake Claiborne State Park. This is another article of several that focus on local recreational choices.
"Outdoors-challenged": That is me. I should not be allowed around combustible materialsólike trees and matches. My past camping experiences included bugs, snakes, wet, too hot, too cold, etc. So I am not a-tingle with excitement when the editor tells me to go to Lake Claiborne State Park and write about the cabins, camp sites, and other attractions.
But trooper that I am, I mosey on out to the park and meet up with Park Manager Lonnie Dean. He provided informative commentary ("Here's a fish cleaning station on the left"_"Those are shower facilities over there") as we toured the campgrounds, beach, fishing piers, cabins, pavilion, picnic areas, playground, foot bridges, boat housesóno wonder the brochure says, "Something for Everyone."
Despite my initial apprehension, I am impressed with Lake Claiborne State Park. As Lonnie shows me around the park, I can see myself relaxing on the deck of a cabin enjoying the cool shade and the tranquil view through the trees around the lake. As Lonnie walks me through a cabin, I am surprised to find myself tilting in favor of a family week-end on the lake. "And there's central air and a remote control TV," Lonnie says. Now that's my idea of camping.
Each two-story cabin is about 1300 square feet and provides sleeping accommodations for 6 to 8 people. The loft bedroom has a queen-size bed while the downstairs bedroom has two sets of bunk beds. If needed, the living-room sofa opens up to provide another queen size bed.
Not only is there central heat and air, the cabins have a freestanding "Franklin style" fireplace. Kitchens have pots and pans plus spoons and forks and plates and glasses and eating stuff for up to eight. (Lonnie says I have to bring my own food.) There's also a dishwasher, microwave, full-size refrigerator, and electric stove.
The screened entry porch has a small picnic table. The back deck also has a picnic table as well as a charcoal grill.
All this and less for family friendly fees. By "less," I mean there's no phone. But DirecTV Satellite Service is available at additional charge. Some cabins are handicapped accessible. Pets are not allowed in the cabins, on the porches, or the decks.
Reservations may be made through Central Reservations (877-226-7652) up to 11 months in advance.
Lonnie tells me there are 87 campsites with water and electricity, picnic tables, and barbeque grills. Primitive group camping is available in addition to the 10 comfortable cabins. A comfort station and laundry facilities contribute to a pleasant camping experience.
Fishermen and water sportsmen can rent boats or launch their own craft from several boat ramps. Boathouses with restrooms and several fishing piers are scattered around the lake The website also mentions primitive canoe campsites are also available for the adventurous. (I won't be trying those, thank you.)
For swimming, a sandy beach is situated on an inlet of the lake protected from boats and water skiers. A park naturalist regularly presents nature-based programs and gives guided hikes.
Although summer is the busiest time around the lake, Lonnie says cabins are available year-round. He says if you want a cabin for the week-end, call as far ahead as possible. Of course, you won't have to wait as long for a reservation if you plan to stay during a week-night or two.
See ya at the lake!