Rio Vista resident Steve Waits said he just happened to decide Wednesday would be a good day to take his grandson, Brice Waits, fishing at Cleburne State Park.
“Didn’t know they were going to be releasing catfish this morning,” Steve Waits said. “That’s pretty cool. Got a little rain and the weather’s about perfect for June.”
New park Superintendent Michael Smith thought it was pretty cool too and made it a point to be on hand as the catfish of considerable size were released into Cedar Lake.
“We stock this lake annually with smaller catfish but this is a special deal because these fish, there’s not very many of them that are used in the hatchery,” Smith said.
Representatives from Texas Parks & Wildlife Inland Fisheries and Mike Pereira of A.E. Wood Fish Hatchery out of San Marcos delivered the 12 females and several males to the lake.
“We’re collaborating on this deal,’” said John Tibbs with Texas Parks & Wildlife Fish Management out of Waco. “I manage the lakes and Mike brings us the fish.”
Larger males transported in the trailer tank were included specifically to fight the females off, Pereira said.
“After the females spawn the males sits on the eggs, fans them and keeps them safe because the female will actually come back and try to eat the eggs,” Pereira said. “So we take bigger males and smaller females so they can fight them off.”
All were netted and deposited in their new lake home while about 10 park goers looked on.
Babies are sure to come, Pereira said.
“Out in the wild other fish get to the eggs and fry so you’re not going to get the survival rate we get in the hatchery because it’s a closed system,” Pereira said. “But you’ll get spawn and they’ll make little ones for sure. Now how many, I couldn’t begin to tell you.”
In addition to new catfish residents Cedar Lake will soon be home to kayaks and paddle boats, Smith said.
“We’re working with a new vendor who will install a solar powered payment method where you can come out and rent kayaks,” Smith said. “That should be in place this year. The contract’s been finalized in Austin so it’s just a question of getting everything out here and installed. We’re also working on a trial program of bringing paddle boats in from another park that no longer uses them.”
Credit the fairly recently created Friends of Cleburne State Park for many of the parks improvements and new programs of late, Smith said.
“The Friends are a nonprofit entity that exists solely for the benefit of the park,” Smith said. “It’s a group of passionate people who love this park who have decided that their time and money is well spent supporting it. They run the gift store at the entrance and all the proceeds go right back into this park.
“ They’ve done wonderful things for the park already including getting a grant for the kayaks to teach people how to kayak. They also come out and help us hold interpretive programs and events, which help us attract people from all over Johnson County and the Metroplex.”
Interpretive programs teach skills and/or help people get comfortable with the outdoors.
“Or they tell stories of the park either natural or the cultural history of the park,” Smith said. “This is a Civilian Conservation Corps park and a lot of people don’t know what the CCC was. It was a Franklin D. Roosevelt era park built by young men sending money back home to their families in the ’30s. It was built to put money back into the economy, put young men to work and teach them skills.
“Several of our structures toward the front of the park, including the old walking bridge, are from the CCC days. Since then we’ve added a day lodge and some barracks, which, even though they’re newer, were built to resemble the old CCC style.”
One inspector, before the state park opened, declared that the park’s dam was insufficient to keep water in the lake, Smith said.
“Obviously he was wrong,” Smith said while scanning Cedar Lake’s picturesque view.
The same inspector allegedly said he would be able to drink whatever water came over the spillway. Such a man would have to be awfully thirsty, Smith joked.
Smith brings 19 years experience of working state and national parks to Cleburne. The Friday of Memorial Day weekend marked his first official workday in Cleburne.
So far so good.
“The first day here I ate lunch at Heroes Restaurant and I saw this business that makes mascots and costumes,” Smith said. “They were taking pictures of their latest mascot and took a picture of me with it, which they were nice enough to send me. Within five minutes of being in town the sheriff welcomed me here and gave me access to his office and a tour of the jail and book-in procedures there.
“Even as a manager with Texas State Parks part of my job is law enforcement so it’s good to have those good relationships with fellow law enforcement. But it’s been a hectic but pleasant transition and everyone in the community has welcomed us warmly. My family and I are excited to be in Cleburne and look forward to getting to know the community better.”