Canyons of the Eagles Lodge and Park, on Lake Buchanan outside of Burnet, is more than just a park. It's a new kind of park. It's a destination that offers an outdoor experience for a rainbow of types of vacations, from primitive tent camping to comfortable lodges.
From its perch on a point overlooking the blue expanse of the lake, the deck of the lodge's restaurant offers a panoramic view of the Hill Country. On a nearby hill, the primitive camping area offers a similar view of the northernmost Highland Lake. This scenic area is being opened to the public through a partnership between the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) and Presidian L.C. of San Antonio.
"This partnership allows us to keep up with the public demand for recreation facilities," says Jeffrey Singleton, manager of the LCRA's Recreation Partnership Initiative. His office worked out a deal with the San Antonio company, which leases 75 acres of the 940-acre former ranch for the lodge, restaurant, conference center, and cabins.
The park also has an RV park, nature trails, and the new home of the Vanishing River Cruise, which offers guided boat trips on Lake Buchanan to see the scenery and the wintering American Bald Eagles. Plans call for the development of an astronomical observatory, nature programs, and additional recreation facilities. Development affects only 150 acres; the other 790 acres remain a nature preserve.
Until recently, the small ranch was a private hunting and recreation area. It was one of the last large undivided properties on the lake when the LCRA purchased the rolling hills that are habitat for the Black-capped Vireo, Golden-cheeked Warbler, bald eagle, and other wildlife.
Singleton says the LCRA was challenged with preserving the nature habitat while opening the property to the visitors, all within the agency's limited park budget. "One of our goals is to expand and diversify our park system with little or no money on our part," he says. Revenues generated by the Canyon of the Eagles' 50-year lease will be used to create and expand other LCRA recreation areas.
The LCRA operates several parks along the Colorado River between Lake Buchanan and the Gulf of Mexico. Singleton says the LCRA has another public/private agreement at Fayette Lake, where a concessionaire maintains cabins at Oak Thicket and Park Prairie in exchange for operating the LCRA parks.
Andrew Sansom, executive director of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD), calls the Canyon of the Eagles the "park of the future." TPWD helped with grant money to buy the land and with planning the park. "I'd rather buy land than build lodges," Sansom says. "Let the private sector build and run the lodges." He prefers to see facilities in Texas public parks operated more like the national parks system, where concessionaires invest in the infrastructure.
Presidian brings a $4.5 million investment to the Nature Park and Lodge on Lake Buchanan. Scott Goodwin, president of Presidian, called nature tourism the fastest-growing segment of the travel industry, and it is still being developed and defined. Along with the 44-room lodge, the park will have 20 cottage rooms in a "presidio" layout surrounding a swimming pool. Most of the fourplex cottages have porches with scenic views of the lake and countryside. The cabins come with and without kitchenettes and rent for less than $100 a night.
One of the most unique features of the park will be the "Eagle Eye Observatory," one of the few stargazing observatories open to the public. Being built in a meadow near the front gate, the observatory will be constructed in cooperation with the Austin Astronomical Society. Star parties will be open to all guests in the park, and educational programs will be aimed at beginners as well as serious astronomers. Plans call for Eagle Eye to house several large telescopes, as well as pedestals, storage, and decks for the public to bring their own scopes.
The addition of overnight accommodations for visitors to the area helps Vanishing River Cruises, which used to dock at their lakefront property next door to the park. The wildlife- and eagle-viewing cruises attract more than 30,000 visitors a year, but further growth suffers from the lack of lodging. The best times to see wildlife along the lake shore is early or late in the day, which caused passengers to either start at sunrise or stay after sunset.
The hills of Canyon of the Eagles are covered with a thick forest, and now the once-private recreation area can be enjoyed by the public. The park has 25 RV slips with full hookups, 25 drive-in campsites, 14 walk-in campsites, and 20 primitive overnight sites. There is a park store at the beach next to Vanishing River Cruises' dock. More than 12 miles of trails meander through the woods.
The park is about 20 miles from Burnet off TX29 at the northern end of FM2341, a beautiful drive in itself. The campsites opened at the end of June, and the cabins and lodge are scheduled to open by the end of July. For reservations or information, call 800/977-0081.
Coming up this weekend ...
Horse Racing at the Gillespie County Fairgrounds south of Fredericksburg, like it was supposed to be run, in a small town setting along with parimutuel betting, July 3-4, 17-18. 830/997-2359.
Red, White, & Blues around the courthouse in Blanco celebrates independence with a weekend of fun, July 3-4. 830/833-5101.
Half Moon Holidays in Shiner isn't the average Fourth of July celebration, with more to do in Green-Dickson Park, July 3. 512/594-3327.
Coming up ...
On the Trail of Echols -- Big Bend Camel Treks that follow part of the area covered by Lt. William Echols during the 1860 U.S. Army experiment to use camels in the Southwestern desert. The Texas Camel Corps offers two-day trips that include camels, guides, meals, and lodging, July 24-25, July 31-Aug.1. Reservations required. 915/229-3416.
Heronry Boat Tour goes to nesting sites of herons, egrets, and other birds on B.S. Steinhagen Reservoir. Tours at 9am and 2pm, July 10. Reservations required. 409/384-5231.
423rd in a Series. Collect them all.