Granger Lake might be one of the best kept secrets in Central Texas. About 35 miles northeast of Austin and 15 miles east of Georgetown, the four parks at the lake are often nearly silent except for the gentle snoring of the park host at the gate house and the occasional buzzing of a passing fishing boat.
Opened in 1981 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the 4,400-acre lake is used for flood control and water conservation, and with 133 camping sites in three parks, recreation is a major attraction of the lake. Six miles south of Granger, the lake was originally known as Laneport Lake after a small settlement near the dam, but the name was changed in 1975.
Wildlife management areas administered by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department cover the vast majority of the land around the lake. Once part of a great agricultural area, the 11,116-acre wilderness areas vary from open prairie to thick stands of native trees. Wildlife abounds in the sections that are seldom visited except during the fall and winter public hunts.
"It's kind of rare that a Corps of Engineers lake is completely surrounded by public land," says Jennifer Schultz, the park ranger. "It's good for the public and good for the wildlife."
The Corps provides nine access points to the wildlife management areas around the lake. Visitors are welcome to explore the fields and hills on foot or mountain bike. One of the best avenues for a wilderness experience is the nature trail that runs upriver toward TX 95 from Taylor Park and ends at the primitive campground. Canoeists and fishermen favor the trip downriver from the access point at TX 95 to the lake. "We're looking for volunteers to help finish the trail between TX 95 and the park," Schultz says.
One of the nicest parks on the lake is Taylor Park off of FM 1331 on the southern shore. On a hill overlooking the lake, the park has 48 campsites, all with a grill, covered picnic table, and electricity. There also are 50 picnic sites, also with a grill and covered picnic table, and a boat ramp. The park is open March 1 through Sept. 30 only. Camping fees apply at the park, but there is no day-use fee. No fee is charged for the primitive campground 3.2 miles upriver.
The 2.8-mile trail system in the park includes the Hoxie and Friendship bridges from the 1900s. The iron and wood plank bridges are scenic reminders of when the area was home to immigrant settlers. In fact, Taylor Park was the site of the Hoxie Mansion. In 1878, John Hoxie, a railroad magnate and former mayor of Chicago, purchased 9,000 acres of ranch land north of Taylor. The ranch headquarters became the settlement of Hoxie a few miles south of the park on CR 418. "There is a lot of history to this lake," Schultz says.
The Hoxie Mansion was more of a guest house than a home. With five large rooms on two floors and a ballroom that covered the entire third floor, it was used to entertain guests from Chicago, railroad company parties, and local residents. Beginning in 1910, the estate was broken up and sold as small farms to Czech and Swedish immigrants. The mansion burned down in 1934.
Wilson H. Fox Park, next to Taylor Park on FM 1331, is the largest of the Granger Lake Parks with 58 campsites and screened shelters. It also has a campsite specifically designed for disabled access. Like the other campgrounds, it has central restrooms and showers with hot water. Much of the camping area is heavily shaded, and with the park-provided amenities it is very comfortable. The park also has two boat ramps and a fishing dock.
Fox and Friendship parks are the only two parks on the lake with swimming beaches. At Fox Park the beach is separated from the camping area. A restroom is nearby, and there are shade trees, but no picnic tables near the water.
Friendship Park is at the north end of the dam about seven miles east of Granger off of FM 971. A day-use only park, it has a large group shelter for rent and a boat ramp as well as the swimming beach. The 45 covered picnic tables and grills include 10 near the water. The day-use fee of $1 per person or $3 per car is charged Friday through Sunday. The public has access to the park April 1 through Sept. 30.
The park is named for the farming community of Friendship, which was inundated by the lake waters. During last year's drought, the lake was low enough to expose what remains of the farming settlement. A few roads, walkways, and rock flowerbeds marked where the town used to be. "You had to know what you're looking for to know what it was," Schultz says. Still, several old-timers who went to school in Friendship stopped by to reminisce about the town.
Willis Creek Park on the western shore of the lake is small, but with a scenic view of the lake. The area Boy Scouts built a very nice group picnic area that has its own volleyball court and horseshoe pits. With only 27 campsites, it is popular with fishermen who use the boat ramp and take advantage of the excellent bank fishing. There are only five picnic sites in the park.
Granger Lake is popular with area fishermen who take advantage of the bass populations that were stocked during the 1980s and the native catfish that grow to enormous size in the muddy and tree-lined banks. Because of the slippery, muddy bottom, swimming is best confined to the two beaches, although a popular swimming spot is at the southern end of the dam.
Many of the camping sites are given out on a first-come, first-served basis, but to make reservations, call 877/444-6777 or www.reserveusa.com. To contact the lake headquarters to or to reserve a group shelter, call 512/859-2668. For more information on Corps of Engineers lakes, visit their Web site at www.swf-wc.usace.army.mil/.
Coming up this weekend ...
International Apple Festival in Medina proves that when it comes to fruit, fresh is better, along with lots of fun activities, July 27-28. 830/589-7224.