A drawdown will allow heavy layers of silt to compact and crack, regaining some of the lake’s original depth. Photo from 2006 Lake Conway drawdown.

AGFC Announces Plans to Renovate Lake Conway

Searcy County Waterfall

MAYFLOWER — Arkansas Game and Fish Commission Director Austin Booth announced official plans today to begin the renovation of Craig D. Campbell Lake Conway Reservoir. The plan includes replacing the lake’s aging spillway and will be the largest lake renovation project in the agency’s 108-year history.

“It was the effort that the Commission undertook in the 1940s to begin the construction of Lake Conway that led to the creation of Amendment 35 and created the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission in its modern form,” Booth said. “The AGFC is not just doubling down on outdoor recreation on Lake Conway and Faulkner County, but also on the conservation ethos that existed here in the 1940s, that we know is alive and well in 2023, and so that future Arkansans can enjoy Lake Conway at its full potential.”

At the time of its construction, Lake Conway was the largest lake ever constructed by a state wildlife agency. During the last 75 years, it has provided hundreds of thousands of anglers with fantastic fishing experiences, but the spillway has far exceeded its expected lifespan. During the last few years, multiple repairs have been needed to keep the structure working. The AGFC plans to replace the old, manually operated gate system with a concrete weir that offers increased capacity to manage water levels.

AGFC Director Austin Booth announced the plans to drain and renovate Lake Conway.
AGFC Director Austin Booth announced the plans to drain and renovate Lake Conway.

The gates of the spillway are expected to be opened on Sept. 1 to begin a controlled drawdown for the renovation. Most of the lake’s fish will leave the lake through the spillway into Palarm Creek and the Arkansas River. Commissioners are expected to vote on a change during their July 20 meeting to lift limits, letting anglers make use of fish from the lake before the drawdown is complete.

Once the lake is drawn down, it is expected to remain dry for up to five years to complete all aspects of the proposed renovation.

Booth explained that silt and sediment have built up on the lake’s bottom since the lake opened. This natural byproduct of aging has taken away as much as 3 feet of depth in portions of the lake and much of the lake’s prime spawning habitat. Booth said engineers and biologists estimate that 40 percent of the lake’s original 40,000-acre-foot volume has been replaced with sediment, leaving many boathouses in the northern quarter of the lake inaccessible. An extended drawdown will let the silt dry and compact, regaining some lost depth.

“We will greatly increase the volume available for fish and fishermen through this compaction,” Booth said.

A drawdown will allow heavy layers of silt to compact and crack, regaining some of the lake’s original depth. Photo from 2006 Lake Conway drawdown.
A drawdown will allow heavy layers of silt to compact and crack, regaining some of the lake’s original depth. Photo from 2006 Lake Conway drawdown.

Organic matter trapped in the sediment will decompose and be taken up by grass, brush, and trees and recycle those nutrients into the system. Once the lake is again flooded, this new growth will create excellent cover the fishery has not seen in decades. A similar project, conducted at Lower White Oak Lake in 2012, has yielded exceptional results from the “new lake effect” of flooding such growth and managing from a clean slate.

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The AGFC also plans to intensify complex cover for fish in key areas of the lake. Gravel spawning beds will increase productivity for bream and other sunfish. Additional cypress tree plantings will create more natural cover, and staff plans to take on massive artificial habitat projects to create large amounts of PVC fish attractors and brush piles. Another recent renovation at Lake Poinsett saw 174 habitat sites established in the 341-acre lake. AGFC plans to match that effort but at a much larger scale. Booth said well over 350 habitat sites are planned for the lake, adding as many as 3,000 fish-attracting structures once the renovation is complete.

Draining the lake will enable the AGFC to start with a clean slate and focus the lake’s nutrients toward desirable species, including crappie, bream, Florida largemouth bass, and flathead catfish. The lake’s fertility will then allow these fish to grow quickly.

A drawdown will allow boat lanes to be cleared properly, eliminating these sort of stumps revealed during a 2006 drawdown of Lake Conway.
A drawdown will allow boat lanes to be cleared properly, eliminating these sort of stumps revealed during a 2006 drawdown of Lake Conway.

The dry lakebed also will make it possible for the AGFC to make Lake Conway much more boater-friendly. “Old Stumpy” will still be full of cover, but the agency plans to make many improvements to the 23 miles of boat lanes around the lake. Lanes will be cleared as much as possible and new, higher visibility markers will be installed to increase navigation safety.

Boat ramps also will be improved as the AGFC will work to dredge channels near the ramps, clear stumps and other debris from around boat-launching areas and enhance access points. Additional work along the shore also will allow for more convenient launching and loading of boats.

An extended drawdown of Lake Conway will allow the AGFC to repair and enhance boating accesses to prevent washed out ramps that can damage boats and trailers. Photo from 2006 Lake Conway drawdown.
An extended drawdown of Lake Conway will allow the AGFC to repair and enhance boating accesses to prevent washed out ramps that can damage boats and trailers. Photo from 2006 Lake Conway drawdown.

Mayflower Mayor Danny Hester spoke about the possibilities for increased economy to Mayflower, which lies at the south end of the lake.

“In addition to the new boat ramps, and new boat docks, we feel that this is going to be a huge impact to us in Mayflower just down the road,” Hester said. “The five years proposed for the project is nothing compared to the recently completed (Interstate 40) overpass, which was first talked about when Lyndon B. Johnson was President. We’re excited about what this renovation will bring to Mayflower. We really appreciate the work and look forward to the completion of it.”

AGFC staff also plan to remove many structures that have fallen into a state of disrepair that are on state-owned property. Many boathouses and piers have not been permitted properly in the last decade and have subsequently been abandoned by former landowners around the lake’s perimeter. The drawdown will allow lakefront owners to gain assistance from the agency in removing these structures.

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The cleanup not only will take place along the shore, but also among the thousands of trees filling the lake. Workers will be able to remove decades of passive fishing devices and illegally placed metal stakes in the lakebed that have accumulated over the years.

Conway Mayor Bart Castleberry revealed additional infrastructure improvement plans with the possible extension of the Connect Conway bicycle trail system to Lake Conway.
Conway Mayor Bart Castleberry revealed additional infrastructure improvement plans with the possible extension of the Connect Conway bicycle trail system to Lake Conway.

“The census recently showed that Conway is the fastest growing city in the state, and that’s partly due to our amenities,” Conway Mayor Bart Castleberry said. “Lake Conway has been a part of those amenities for a long time. As a city, we’re going to invest as a city, with the (chamber of commerce) and with Faulkner County’s permission to bring our Connect Conway bicycle loop to this area so you can drive, get on your bicycle or walk to this lake the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission is going to restore.”

Booth spoke about the great partnership he has been able to form with local municipalities and officials in the recent planning process for the plan’s announcement, and he said he looks forward to continued collaboration with many projects that will be undertaken during the renovation.

“We could not do this project without the community,” Booth said. “We are remarkably grateful that we’re not just renovating a Game and Fish asset, but that we stand arm-in-arm with the chamber, the city of Mayflower, the city of Conway and our county judge (Allen Dodson).”

The AGFC, the city of Conway, and city of Mayflower plan to have public meetings at the following locations to give interested anglers and stakeholders an opportunity to have one-on-one conversations about the proposed project:

Conway Meeting
6 p.m. June 26
The Rogue Roundabout Restaurant
804 Chestnut St.
Conway, AR

Gudrun Mountain Bike Festival

and

Mayflower Meeting
6 p.m. June 29
Mayflower City Hall
5 Ashmore St.
Mayflower, AR

Shift Modern Cyclery - Be Ready To Ride.

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