Once upon a time, Lake Worth was the place to be.
Six miles north of downtown Fort Worth, the city-owned lake was home to Casino Beach and its amusement park, boardwalk and a dance hall that in the 1920s attracted the Guy Lombardo and Tommy Dorsey bands.
Times have been hard on the lake, but as it prepares to celebrate its 100th birthday, officials and residents are awash in high hopes because, after about 17 months of continuous dredging, the Lake Worth project is nearly finished, ahead of schedule and under budget.
Started in late August 2012, the dredging project was expected to be complete in May 2014, but Paul Bounds, project manager, said the contractor is putting the final touches on the dredging work and that much of the process now is taking up pipelines that were laid for the dredging.
“I think what everyone wanted to see was Lake Worth go back to what it was in the 1920s, where it was really a regional, recreational area, with lots of people coming to enjoy the lake,” Bounds said.
Lake Worth was constructed for $1.6 million and filled in August 1914, with Casino Beach, a bustling area, popping up in the 1920s.
“Since that time, we have seen Casino Beach development has gone away and we have had 100 years of sediment buildup at the lake,” Bounds said.
The problems led the Fort Worth City Council to approve a $117 million capital improvements implementation plan in 2007 to make the lake a premier recreational lake for North Texas.
Casino Beach Inc., a development of Patterson Equity Partners in Arlington, will bring Casino Beach back to life with restaurants, shopping and outdoor recreational areas.
For Bob Crow, who first moved to the area when he was 5 in 1950, the dredging and the other improvements are a revitalization of the lake.
“I’ve lived on this lake long enough to have swam at Casino Beach myself in the early 1950s. My parents danced in the casino ballroom in the mid-50s, so that re-birthing process is really re-birthing some of my roots and what was enjoyable about the lake way back when,” said Crow, who moved back to the lake in 2003.
The city’s plans
Lake Worth is a jewel of Fort Worth, said Councilman Dennis Shingleton, who represents the area, and the finished dredging will just make it that much better.
“The lake is so clear and clean, it is just absolutely magnificent,” Shingleton said of the dredging. “We expect this to just jump off the scales with recreational activity.”
The dredging project, funded by gas lease money, was contracted with Great Lakes Dredge and Dock Co. of Oak Brook, Ill. for $15.49 million, but is expected to finish about $239,419 under budget, Bounds said.
The 2.14 million cubic yards of sand mixture that was dredged were sent by pipe to privately owned Silver Creek Materials west of Loop 820. Silver Creek is using the silt to make compost.
Next, the city will partner with landowners and other governments to protect the lake line and keep silt from building back up, said Bounds.
The city also started water and sewer designs for the area, has begun designs for a trail system and has renovated boat ramps for the lake. Additional plans include widening roads and implementation of water, sewer and park improvements.
However, the city is not taking on any debt to fund the plan and must wait on the gas well money to come in first, Bounds said, making a final finishing date for the plan unpredictable.
The newly dredged lake will be at least 6 feet deep under the worst drought conditions and 10 feet deep under the best of conditions. Six feet is considered standard for most boating and water activities, Bounds said.
The lake will be safer for boaters and other recreational sports, said Crow, who lives on the lake and also sails. He said he has gotten a sailboat stuck many times on the lake and hopes the dredging will make that less likely in the future.
The dredging process also removed hazardous obstacles, like stumps, from the lake.
Lake Worth is Fort Worth’s only real lake, Shingleton said, with the city owning much of the shoreline to make it available for public use.
“Forty years ago, it was the hub of activity. It was a destination for many states around to come to Lake Worth, especially Casino Beach,” Shingleton said.
The city is also offering economic incentives to the Casino Beach development, such as refunds for improvements that the development will make to city-owned parks.
Casino Beach development
Jarod Cox, one of the partners involved with the Casino Beach development, said they hope to break ground around May or June on the first phase of the project, which will include 20,000 square feet of restaurant and retail space, an outdoor pavilion and outdoor restrooms and lighting.
Cox said it should take about 15 months to complete the first phase of development once construction starts. The second phase, which includes an additional 20,000 square feet of restaurant and retail space and an event center, will start when the project is self-sustaining.
“It is really the only area and the only way Tarrant County can grow. It has a lot of open space,” Cox said of western Fort Worth.
The group is purchasing 15.8 acres and leasing an additional 20-25 acres from the city and plans to have a dock and gasoline station for boats.
Cox said they had hoped to have the development ready for the lake’s 100th birthday and the Lake Worth Centennial Celebration, which is planned throughout 2014, but there were delays.
Lake’s 100th birthday
Still, the dredging finished just in time for the celebration, said Crow, who is co-chairman of the Lake Worth Centennial Celebration Committee with Pat Hyer.
The committee has planned several activities, including a Blue Angels Air Show in April, a regatta in May, a bicycle tour in June and the official centennial celebration with live music, flyovers and water events Sept. 20.
“Being a 100 years old certainly deserves being celebrated,” said Crow, who moved away from the lake for much of his adult life.
“I call it coming full circle. It was a wonderful place to be as a kid. I loved it, and I always intended to try to get back,” Crow said. “Living on the lake is a way of life. We thoroughly enjoy the sunrises and sunsets, sitting on the deck and watching the birds fly.”