Lake Waco is a reservoir and artificial lake which serves a variety of functions for the city of Waco. The dam was built in 1929 in order to control flooding of the Bosque River and to provide the city with a reliable water source. In 1961, a modern earthen dam replaced the original structure, increasing the surface area of the lake considerably from approximately two thousand seven hundred acres to around nineteen thousand four hundred acres. Today, lake is maintained by the US Army Engineering Corps and the Brazos River Authority.
The creation and subsequent enlargement of Lake Waco displaced several communities in the surrounding area. Many citizens were forced to move or abandon their homes or businesses, and the enlargement of the lake in the 1950s destroyed entire town sites such as the Speegleville community, a small farming town west of Waco. Many people felt that the lake distanced communities and destroyed the once tight-knit community atmosphere.
Though the lake’s primary purpose is to provide a reliable water source for Waco, it has also served as a center of recreational activity for many years. In the 1930s, the Waco Tribune-Herald described Lake Waco as a “mecca for hundreds daily in the summer,” providing more than just a beautiful sight but also a spot for social gatherings. Through the years, boating became a highly popular pastime on the lake. By the 1950s, it was typical to see the lake covered in boats and the shoreline dotted with swimmers and sunbathers.
The construction of the new dam opened up conversation among the Waco community concerning the development of community centers around Lake Waco. Many citizens saw the lake as a matter of civic pride and desired to develop the services the park could offer the community. The US Army Engineering Corps encouraged the creation of features such as wildlife habitats and parks alongside the dam.
Four parks maintained by the corps surround Lake Waco: Airport Park, Midway Park, Reynolds Creek Park, and Speegleville Park. These parks offer facilities for camping and picnics and contain several boat ramps and two marinas. They also provide areas for activities such as water sports, hunting and fishing, boating, and hiking. The Lacy Point Nature Trail in Reynolds Creek Park is recognized in the National Trails System. During the summer, educational programs are offered for the public on topics such as wildlife, lake history, and water safety.
The upper end of Lake Waco houses the Waco Wetlands, an environmental project established in 2001 to lessen habitat loss when the city raised the reservoir seven feet. This site, managed through cooperation between the city and Baylor University, serves as a living laboratory for research, education, and recreation.
At first a civic project, Lake Waco has become an important gathering point for the city through the educational and recreational benefits it offers the city.