By STEVE KNIGHT
DAINGERFIELD — The road to Daingerfield State Park winds a short distance off Texas Highway 11/49 through the woods to the front gate. It is like passing into another world.
Daingerfield was carved from 500 donated acres in Morris County, another of the state park system’s Civilian Conservation Corps sites.
“Whoever had the dream of laying out the park had a good idea. It is pretty amazing,” said John Thomas, park superintendent since 2005.
Although the park underwent a year-long, $5 million renovation that led to its reopening last June, one of its oldest features, an 80-acre lake, that remains the centerpiece of the park. For 74 years it has drawn swimmers, fishermen and picnickers.
Unlike some of CCC-built parks around the state, Daingerfield has only a few of its original structures still standing. Each, Bass Lodge, the original dining hall and boathouse, were all upgraded in the renovation.
“They were redone from the ground floor up, but we didn’t want to change them, just enhance them,” said Smith.
While brought into the 21st Century in some ways, Bass Lodge, a cabin that sleeps 15, was transformed back to the 1930s with replica furniture and pine walls that were striped to their original appearance. A gift shop was reopened in the dining hall, a pavilion that is the gateway to the lake. The old boathouse was converted to an interpretive center as well as boat storage facility.
Although the park attracts visitors from statewide, the vast majority come from the local area, still using the park as they always have, with the exception of the missing juke box that once serenaded regular weekend dances.
“Even going back to the ’40 and ‘50s the high schoolers came here for field trips and for dances on Friday and Saturday night,” Thomas said.
Thomas said many of them continue to make pilgrimages back to the park from time to time.
“I can’t tell you how many visitors we have had come here and say they just wanted to see the park because they used to come back in the 1940s,” Thomas said.
“Bass Lodge is booked every weekend from now until Thanksgiving,” Thomas noted.
He added that during the summers the park is filled with day visitors who came to beat the Northeast Texas heat at the beach and swimming in the lake. That also hasn’t changed.
“The majority of the summer months are locals, but we still get a lot of visitors from Louisiana and the Dallas area,” Thomas said. He added that because of the lake, the only real down time in the park comes in the dead of winter.
When the 213 members of CCC Company 2891 constructed the buildings, lake and two miles of roads within the park, they probably never anticipated the 65,000 visitors that come to the park each year or the recreational vehicles up to 50-feet long that snake into the 52 campsites throughout the park.
Because of changing demand, the park faces some issues as it moves forward. The biggest is a demand for more RV spaces and less tent sites. Currently the park only has 10 drive-through sites that accommodate the biggest trailers.
Having only three cabins and Bass Lodge to rent also hurts the parks bottom line. In 1990 the park was grossing $200,000. It was up to $270,000 in 2005. Thomas has a goal of $400,000, but realizes that it will be difficult to achieve because visitation is maxed. He hopes the reopening of the store, along with boat rentals can add at least $30,000 annually.
A dollar increase on day-use fees, along with slight increases for campsites that has been instituted should also help.