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Lake Cleburne does far more than provide water for the City of Cleburne, Texas. The reservoir in the Prairies and Lakes region also provides local residents and visitors with recreational opportunities and some great bass fishing. Texas reservoirs are well-known for the monster bass they produce. Although Lake Pat Cleburne isn't a trophy producer, it supplies a steady stream of four-to-five-pounders, big enough to keep anglers coming back for more. The many boat ramps are busy with pleasure boaters enjoying water skiing, tubing, wake-riding and assorted water sports. Canoes and kayaks paddle the brush-covered shoreline and explore the coves and inlets. Children swim and families picnic. There's something for everyone at Lake Pat Cleburne.
The City of Cleburne had to make a choice: either preserve the site of the oldest county seat in the area or have water. Progress won; Lake Cleburne covers the remnants of Wardville, the first county seat of Johnson County. The dam across the Nolan River produced a reservoir covering over 1500 acres to a depth of 64 feet. Texas Parks and Wildlife stocked fish, including largemouth bass and let nature take its course. The result was a fine fishery containing the largemouths, white bass, channel catfish, blue catfish and flathead catfish, white crappie and sunfish.
Four boat ramps located around the lake assure easy access for most boats. Most of the ramp areas have parking, picnic tables and room to stretch out. There are no designated beach areas, but swimming is permitted 'at your own risk'; there are no lifeguards. Plans are underway to improve facilities at the lake to maximize use of the miles of shoreline. Lake levels regularly fluctuate up to two feet during the year. Prolonged drought has lowered the levels of Lake Cleburne in recent years. The lake is expected to recover normal levels rapidly once sufficient rain reaches the watershed. There is still plenty of water for nearly all activities, but boat launching may be affected at some launch areas due to low water levels. Those wishing to fish at Lake Cleburne are advised to check lake levels in advance on the Texas Parks and Wildlife website.
One small park at the north end of the lake offers picnic tables, a new pavilion and the early stages of soccer and baseball fields. Buddy Stewart Park has a bird watching area with bird feeders installed behind a wooden fence with peepholes for watching and photographing birds. Pelicans and bald eagles have been seen visiting the lake during migration. A raised walkway is in the planning stage across a swampy area where marsh birds may be observed. Walking trails are planned for the future in more areas, although there are many unofficial paths around the lake where anglers fish from shore. Buddy Stewart Park is a favored place to launch canoes and kayaks which can travel up-river from the location as well as onto the lake.
The water of Lake Cleburne is murky but clean. On hot weekends, the lake is busy with boaters, so fishermen try to make the trip during the week to avoid the crowds. Technically over four miles from the City of Cleburne, the city has grown to nearly reach the lakeshore. A popular municipal golf course skirts the eastern shore, with lake views from every hole. Nearby, Lakeshore Drive holds high-end homes overlooking the water from a distance. There is very little development along the western shore, and no chance of buying lakefront property as it belongs to the city. The city holds a massive fireworks display at Lake Pat Cleburne every Fourth of July with thousands in attendance.
There is no camping at Lake Cleburne, but surrounding areas in Johnson County hold a number of private campgrounds and RV parks. Cleburne State Park is only five miles to the west, with camping sites, walking trails, a small spring-fed lake for fishing and swimming. The park holds over five miles of mountain bike trails amid limestone outcroppings, rolling hills and meadows that fill with wildflowers in spring. Dinosaur Valley State Park is a few miles north of the town of Glen Rose and of great interest to kids who love dinosaurs! The park contains some of the best existing dinosaur tracks in the world along the riverbed. These can best be seen when the water is low. Two huge fiberglass dinosaurs built for the 1964 Worlds Fair Dinosaur Exhibit delight children. The park allows for camping, fishing, swimming, hiking, horseback riding and wildlife observation.
The City of Cleburne is proud of its history in the Old West and finds many ways to display that pride. One of those historic features is found at Lake Pat Cleburne along the western shore. The Chisholm Trail Outdoor Museum holds the oldest log courthouse in Texas and a number of rebuilt/reproduced buildings typical of a Texas town of the 1850s. Markers from the famous Chisholm Trail are preserved as are artifacts from an old blacksmith shop, one-room schoolhouse, stage office and saloon. The stagecoach isn't original; it was built for Hollywood westerns, at least two of which starred John Wayne. Walking tours are free during good weather, but guided tours and bus tours of the Chisholm Trail route must be scheduled in advance for a small fee.
Cleburne holds a number of historic old homes and buildings. The bi-annual Antique Alley and Yard Sale has grown to attract thousands of antique hunters along the 25-mile route between Cleburne and Grandview. Each year 2500 cyclists compete in the Goatneck 100k Bike Race. Pioneer Days, held at the Chisholm Train Outdoor Museum at Lake Cleburne, features chuck wagon cook-off, realistic gun-fights by re-enactors, a Confederate Army encampment and all sorts of festive activities for the entire family. Other activities and festivals throughout the year mean there is always something going on, whether it be a performance of the Greater Cleburne Carnegie Players or one of several rodeos here during the year. And for the kids, the city has an excellent splash park.
Only an hour southwest of Dallas-Fort Worth, Cleburne holds a wealth of lodging choices both in town and nearby. Several chain hotels join small family-owned motels, guest cottages, bed & breakfasts and even a ranch-stay. The city has a variety of eating establishments and entertainment venues to fill the occasional rainy evening. Real estate is available here also, although properties overlooking Lake Cleburne are limited. So, start planning your Lake Cleburne visit.
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