By STEVE KNIGHT
LAKE BOB SANDLIN — There is little doubt that the first campers at Lake Bob Sandlin State Park were Native Americans. They just showed up a few hundred years before the official grand opening.
The 640-acre park is situated in the ancestral home range of the Caddo Indians, but artifacts discovered during construction dated back to 20 B.C.
The park is also located where the Cherokee Trace crossed Big Cypress Bayou going into what is today Titus County. The road, blazed in the 1820s, was a Cherokee trail leading from near Nacogdoches north into Arkansas. Located on the high side of the creek, the site of the park would have made a great camping site.
In later years, settlers followed the trail into the area and began to build farms before the Civil War. That led to conflicts, causing the U.S. Calvary to develop Fort Sherman on the site.
Finally, the land was purchased for development of a state park in 1979 on the shores of Lake Bob Sandlin. Modern-day campers first visited the grounds in 1986.
Although the park annually draws between 60,000 and 70,000 visitors a year, about 90 percent of which come from the Dallas-Fort Worth area, he said there is still room for more.
“This park is neat because it is one of the first you get into the pineywoods, but it is still a mixture of hardwood and pines,” Harris said.
A dense forest when the park opened, an intensive burn program has opened up the woods to both visitors and wildlife. In the spring, roadsides and open meadows are flush with color from wild flowers.
A relatively new park, Bob Sandlin teems with history, but most is hidden or still to be discovered. Indian sites in and near the park aren’t marked because of concerns of looting. It is illegal to take artifacts from state parks. Remnants of old Fort Sherman have never been discovered.
Near the park’s boat ramp is an old cemetery that includes two Confederate States of America veterans who survived the war to come home to Texas. One of the two, J.F. Coston, reportedly fought in and survived 14 battles including Manassas, Antietam, the Wilderness and Gettysburg.
With the lake down five feet, the park boat ramp was closed last July 4th. The lake continued to drop, eventually becoming more than nine feet low. Although still almost three feet below spillway level, it has come up enough that the ramp was reopened in mid-March, and Harris believes that should help draw day traffic back to the park.
“A lot of fishermen like to launch here because of the security,” Harris said.
Lake Bob Sandlin has a good reputation as a bass fishing lake. The lake record bass, a 14.31-pound fish, was actually caught of the park’s pier in 1990.
“I was working that night,” Harris recalled. “A man named Jesse Runnels caught the fish. We called the ShareLunker program and I asked him if he knew what he had. He said ‘Supper.’”
Harris said the angler was crappie fishing with an inexpensive spincasting rod and reel when he caught the fish.
“That is one of the best places on the lake to catch crappie,” the park manager said.
Besides the big lake there is also a smaller lake on the park that is easily accessible for shoreline fish.
Each winter Texas Parks and Wildlife Department stocks the pond with trout for park visitors. The park holds several popular youth fishing days after the trout are stocked.
“We get donations and everyone that participates goes home with a rod and reel,” Harris said.
For those who don’t fish, there are other activities in the park. There is a large playground, basketball court, room for a softball or football game and five miles of hiking and biking trails.
Bob Sandlin is also one of the few parks that have been able to retain an interpretive ranger who puts on programs ranging from star gazing to nature hikes.
Besides the lake level, last summer’s drought also had an impact on the trees at Bob Sandlin. Park employees have been cutting dead trees around the 75 campsites, 12 screened shelters and eight enclosed cabins to eliminate the chance of accidents.
While most of the campsites are clustered along the lake’s shore, there is a primitive pack-in campsite in the interior of the park. That site, located next to the small lake, is extremely popular with scout groups looking for a weekend camping location.
Like most parks in Northeast Texas, the daily entrance fee at Bob Sandlin State Park recently went up. Daily admission is now $4. It had been $2. The cost of campsites also increased in an attempt to generate additional revenue.
“I may lose some visitors, but we really need to increase revenue,” Harris said.