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Toledo Bend Reservoir is the largest artificial lake in Texas. The reservoir was formed in 1969 by the construction of the Toledo Bend Dam on the Sabine River. This vast lake on the Texas-Louisiana border covers 185,000 acres. It is the largest lake in the southern United States and the fifth largest in the country.
The dam is approximately 16 miles north of Burkeville, TX, with the reservoirs extending 65 miles upstream to Logansport, LA.
History of the Toledo Bend Reservoir
In front of the dam
In the early 1900s, the southern reaches of the Sabine River around Orange, Texas, flooded frequently. This had a devastating effect on the towns and industries along the river. The idea of building a reservoir along the Sabine appears to have come about as early as the late 1930s.
Following the successes of other reservoir projects such as the TVA, the US Army Corps of Engineers conducted a study of the Sabine River Valley. Surprisingly, the study initially found that a reservoir was not feasible.
In 1949, Texas took it upon itself to explore the feasibility of creating a reservoir by forming the Texas Sabine River Authority (SRA). Louisiana followed in 1950 and formed the SRA of Louisiana.
The two states entered into an agreement called the Sabine River Compact, which was approved by Texas in 1953 and Louisiana in 1954, followed by the US Congress and the President. The pact called for the creation of a reservoir that would provide a fresh water supply, hydroelectric power, and recreational opportunities.
The details and planning of the reservoir began in 1955. Four years later, it was estimated that the project would cost $60 million, with the cost being shared equally between the two states. It would be one of the largest projects not to receive federal funding.
There was, of course, some opposition from local residents living in the area that would be flooded, but support from local groups, who saw the economic benefits of other similar projects, outweighed those who did not support it.
Groundbreaking for the Toledo Bend Dam took place on October 5, 1961. Texas Gov. Price Daniel and Louisiana Gov. Jimmy Davis both held shovels and turned the first piece of soil.
The ceremony took place before a large crowd from both states about a mile south of where the actual dam was to be built. The dam was not accessible by road and in a remote area, so it was not possible to hold the ceremony there.
In 1963, the states began buying the land that the reservoir would occupy. About 101,000 acres are in Louisiana and 80,000 acres in Texas. Soon after acquiring the land, the timber was removed.
When the reservoir began to fill up, about 20,000 acres of wood were still under water. Another 30,000 acres were partially submerged. Graveyards that would be flooded have been moved to a higher level. Although there were no major towns in the area, numerous homes and farms were flooded.
Construction of the dam began on May 11, 1964. The dam is a 185 foot high rolled earth dam. The causeway section of the dam is 11,200 feet long and rises 112 feet above the original river.
Two hydroelectric turbines generate a total capacity of almost 81,000 kilowatt hours of electricity. The cap section of the dam was completed in October 1966 and the reservoir began to fill. The dam was officially completed and began generating electricity in early 1969, with a dedication ceremony held on October 11, 1969.
Toledo Bend Reservoir today
Toledo Bend Reservoir is best known today for its great fishing. The wood that was submerged when the lake was formed provides excellent living space. Two years in a row, in 2015 and 2016, Bassmaster magazine named the reservoir the best bass fishing lake in the nation.
The current largemouth bass record for the lake is 15.33lbs, with 139 bass over 10lbs caught in a single year. To promote and maintain the excellent fish population, the Toledo Bend Lake Association administers the Toledo Bend Lunker Bass Program. The program awards a free fiberglass replica of every bass over 10 pounds caught and released in the lake.
Over 100 fishing tournaments are held on the lake each year. In addition to largemouth bass, there is also crappie, white bass, striped bass and catfish in abundance.
The Sabine National Forest is on the west side of the reservoir. With over 160,000 acres of undeveloped wilderness, the forest offers visitors plenty of space for camping, hiking and exploring the great outdoors.
The forest includes Moore Plantation, a 26,500-acre wildlife sanctuary managed by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. This area is known for its excellent deer hunting.
Visitors to the reservoir can enjoy boating, water skiing, camping, hiking, and golfing. There are various marinas, campgrounds, RV parks, restaurants and resorts dotted around the lake’s 1200 miles of shoreline. Many enthusiastic fishermen also retire to the area.
The massive Toledo Bend reservoir offers visitors plenty of space to enjoy each and every year. With its excellent fishing, boating, camping and hunting opportunities, it really is a nature lover’s paradise.