Day Trips

Oak Thicket Park on Lake Fayette received a complete makeover when no one was looking.

Rustic Bliss
Rustic Bliss (Photo By Gerald E. McLeod)

Oak Thicket Park on Lake Fayette received a complete makeover when no one was looking. Actually, several governmental entities with an interest in the recreation area were watching closely, but with the exception of a few fishermen who frequent the park a little more than an hour east of Austin, the new amenities at the park have gone largely unnoticed.

Over the past couple of years the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) has been quietly upgrading the park to a showcase. "The park used to be a gravel parking lot, boat ramp, and a mowed area where you could pitch a tent," says Terry Colgan of the LCRA. Along with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the city of Austin, and other area governmental bodies, the river authority invested close to $1 million in the park.

Besides more than doubling the size of the park, the LCRA also installed roads, electricity, and wastewater disposal systems. The park now has a playscape, sandy beach, restrooms, a day-use pavilion, and a fishing pier. What really makes Oak Thicket Park special is the new cabins built by the park's managing partner, RPMF Inc. The tin-roofed, rough-walled buildings are a fair compromise between a hotel and a lakeside lodge.

Each of the cabins offers simple comfort, with the lake only a few steps from the covered porch. The cedar post furniture gives the rooms a rustic look while the open floor plan provides space for recreation gear. After a day of exploring all that Fayette County has to offer, a hot shower feels good, and watching the satellite television as the owls hoot outside can be the icing on the cake.

The cabins come in one- and two-bedroom models with fully equipped kitchens and bed and bath linens supplied. At $125 per night the two-bedroom cabin can sleep up to six adults. There is also a bunkhouse with a large kitchen that can sleep as many as 14 for $135 a night if privacy isn't an issue. The efficiency cabins can sleep up to four, but don't have a kitchen, for $75. All of the cabins come with an outside picnic table, barbecue grill, and fire ring.

Looking like small cabins, the screened shelters are a bargain at $26 a night. Each shelter comes with a ceiling fan, picnic table, electricity, water, and fire ring with grill. Most of the shelters are set back far enough in the woods to offer some privacy. There are also 20 wooded RV campsites and tent campsites in the park.

Oak Thicket Park has been open to the public for more than 20 years since Lake Fayette was built as a cooling pond for the coal-fired electric generating plant on the other side of the lake. "We tried to get lots of public input in the design of the park," says Roger Lewis. He is involved in the construction of new and rehabilitation of old LCRA parks. "Oak Thicket is the family park," he says, "while Park Prairie (three miles west) is the fisherman's park."

Park Prairie has also been upgraded recently, but it remains a more primitive park, with a boat ramp and open spaces for campers who don't need hookups. The two parks are connected by a nice hike-and-bike trail that meanders through the thick underbrush and along the lake shore. There is no telling what wildlife you might see along the trail.

The Rice-Osborne Bird and Nature Trail near the entrance to Oak Thicket Park was built about 10 years ago by local residents and maintained by employees of the power plant. About a mile long, bird feeders and interpretive signs have been added to the trail. It's an easy walk that can be full of surprises

Despite the new attraction of Oak Thicket Park, Lake Fayette is known as one of the best bass fishing lakes in Texas. The 2,420-acre reservoir hasn't produced the mega-bass like an 18-pounder caught at Lake Fork, but the lake's record 65-pound blue catfish and 12.25-pound largemouth bass are still very respectable.

For sheer number of fish to be caught, the lake can be awesome in its own right. A local fishing guide claimed that he can catch 40 to 50 bass in half a day. Colgan says the LCRA began planning the fishing at the lake before it was impounded in 1978. Stock ponds in the area were stocked with bass and catfish before the area was flooded. The wildlife management folks also left vegetation and trees to give small fish a place to grow.

Lake Fayette was intended to be a trophy fishery, Colgan says. The warmer lake waters tend to eliminate a dormant period when the fish stop growing. Also, the lake operates under a slot limit. Only fish smaller than 14 inches or larger than 24 inches can be kept, with a bag limit of five fish per day. Fishermen report that there is a tremendous population of bass in the 17- to 20-inch range.

Oak Thicket Park is on the north side of Lake Fayette, a little more than an hour's drive from Austin. East of La Grange on TX 71, turn north on TX 159 and follow it toward Fayetteville. Reservations for the cabins can be made through the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department's central reservation service at 389-8900. To check on availability of the cabins within 48 hours of your visit, call the park direct at 409/249-3504. There is an entry fee of $4 per person per day for overnight guests and day-use visitors.

Coming up this weekend ...

Southwestern Exposition and Livestock Show and Rodeo in Fort Worth is one of the largest and oldest Western events in the nation, bigger than most state fairs, through Feb. 7. 817/877-2400.

Coming up ...

Border Surf and Citrus Bike Tour in Harlingen offers a President's Day weekend of sporting events and parties plus an Early Texas Aviation Festival at the Texas Air Museum, Feb. 12-14. 800/531-7346 or http://www.harlingen.com.

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