Lake Bistineau is a long, narrow waterway of 15,550 acres (62.9 km2), 1.25 miles (2.01 km) wide and 14 miles (23 km) long located in Webster, Bossier, and Bienville parishes in northwestern Louisiana. The lake is fed by Dorcheat Bayou, Clark’s Bayou, and other smaller streams. Bistineau is connected to the Red River and hence the Mississippi through Loggy Bayou. The name “Bistineau”, derived from the Caddo Indians, means “big broth”, a reference to the variety of plant life found in the water, often on the surface of the lake.
Bistineau was formed in 1800, when several thousand acres of land flooded because of a major log jam in the Red River, a hindrance later eliminated by Captain Henry Miller Shreve, for whom Shreveport is named. As the area was dredged, the lake began to drain.
During the American Civil War, King's Salt Works, located on Lake Bistineau, employed up to 1,500 men in salt-making. According to the historian John D. Winters in The Civil War in Louisiana: "Water was taken from the brine wells and springs and boiled in huge pots and pans, and the wet salt further dried in the sun. As the war continued, the price of salt increased, and more and more people engaged in the salt industry."
Early settlers used Loggy Bayou, Lake Bistineau, and Dorcheat Bayou as a route to a new home, often having remained temporarily on the banks of the streams before planting permanent habitations. The Dorcheat was primarily populated by yeoman farmers seeking fertile soil in which to plant their crops. Few adventure seekers came into the back country. In 1935, a permanent dam built across Loggy Bayou created the modern lake. The dam has since been enlarged. The reservoir has a surface area of 26.9 square miles (70 km2), with an average depth of seven feet ranging to a maximum of twenty-five feet.
Many farmers who owned property bordering Dorcheat Bayou were paid pennies on the dollar for their land when the government decided to construct a permanent dam. Prime farmland was lost due to this. Many farms lost well over half of the acreage that they owned at that time.
Lake Bistineau remains a popular recreational site in north Louisiana. In 1942, a large dam and spillway were completed at the southern end of the lake in an effort to maintain a constant water level.
Lake Bistineau State Park, headquartered in Doyline, a village in Webster Parish southwest of Minden, was established on July 6, 1938, the day that Governor Richard W. Leche signed legislation to authorize creation of the park. Caney Lakes Recreation Area, located north of Minden, also opened to the public in 1938. In 1948, a larger tract of land was acquired, and construction began on Bistineau park.
In 1959 Clyde Connell, an abstract impressionist artist, moved into a cottage by Lake Bistineau with her husband and used the environment to inspire her work.
In 2009, Bistineau and Caney Lakes were again engulfed by the non-native giant salvinia fern, which chokes up the water and reduces its level. The salvinia appeared in the late 1990s at Toledo Bend Reservoir near Many in Sabine Parish. Other vegetation, such as water hyacinths, have clogged the lake over the years. State officials, citing inadequate funding, have thus far been unable to resolve the problem, which impairs boating activities and detracts from the scenic beauty. The water level of Bistineau will be lowered after the Labor Day weekend in another effort to combat the salvinia. Such drawdowns have been undertaken many times in recent years but with exceptions.
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