Great Lakes

As you sit in traffic, your mind wanders to a dock, a fishing pole, and a serene sunset. It must be time to get that lake house you’ve always wanted. But how do you choose? Let this article be your guide.

PRETTY DOESN’T COME CHEAP: A property at Cypress Springs recently sold for $2.3 million.

As you sit on Central Expressway, your mind wanders to a dock, a fishing pole, and a serene sunset. Or maybe your imagination has you slaloming over glass-smooth water, carving rooster tails with your new Connelly ski.

Ah, the lake life. It’s time to get that place you’ve always wanted. But how do you choose from the dozens of lakes in the Dallas area?

Lake Grapevine is certainly no Richland Chambers. And Lake Texoma is a far cry from Lake Frankston. While the stumps that fill Lake Fork make it great for fishing, they make water-skiing a risky proposition. Do you want to spend weekends at the lake or make it your permanent residence? Another consideration is who owns the lake itself. Many in the area are owned by the U.S. Corps of Engineers, which won’t let you build a boathouse or dock on your shoreline.

“When I talk to people, they’re usually considering several lakes,” says Jason Burnham, who owns Richland Chambers Realty and runs the Lakes of Texas Realty web site, a gathering point of lake Realtors. “I start by determining what they want.”

That’s where we’ll start, too.

Cypress Springs
LOCATION: 11 miles southwest of Mt. Vernon
SIZE: 3,450 acres
OTHER BEAUTIFUL LAKES: Possum Kingdom and Richland Chambers

If you think Cypress Springs is as pretty as everyone else does, you’d better get out here. The lake is nearly built out, with the typical home selling for between $300,000 and $400,000. Myra Marr, a Realtor with Coldwell Banker United Realtors, recently closed on a $2.3 million property, so things may be taking a turn for the very upscale.

“The demand has really increased since about 1992 or so,” Marr says. “The prices are going up, up, up, as more people can afford a second home.”

About 85 percent of residents are weekenders, and most of them come from the Dallas area. The lake is small and quiet, as Franklin County patrols strictly enforce the no-drinking and no-wake rules.

CBS Channel 11 news anchor (and regular D contributor, see Pulse)Tracy Rowlett and his wife Jill bought a place on Cypress Springs about six years ago. They make the nearly two-hour drive most weekends. After the drive, Jill says her husband’s shoulders start to relax. While out there, the family cruises around on a pontoon boat, shops for antiques, listens to music, and fishes. “It’s very therapeutic,” Tracy says. “I love the big pine trees. It has such a different feel from what you see around Dallas.” If you’re out his way, Tracy recommends the catfish and shrimp at Vaughn’s.

Rick Horton heads the Dallas branch of D.R. Horton Builders. His wife and kids spend most of their time at their Cypress Springs home in the summer, and he spends “more time than I’ll admit to.” They inner tube, ski, kneeboard, and fish. “Fishing from the dock is incredible,” Horton says. “We sat on our dock just a week ago, fished for an hour, and had enough to feed 10 people.”

Lake Athens
LOCATION:  five miles east of Athens
SIZE: 1,500 acres

Often the small towns around our favorite lakes lack, shall we say, much to recommend them. Athens, on the other hand, is quite a little gem, starting with the Colonial-style Henderson County Courthouse and brick storefronts on its downtown square and continuing with its historic neighborhoods filled with azaleas and dogwoods.

Athens’ new claim to fame is the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center, a $16 million facility for piscine genetic research. It offers walking tours of various aquatic life in Texas, from a pond to a replica of a Hill Country stream. It even has an alligator exhibit and the largest catfish in captivity, a 130-pound, 5-foot lunker.

If all that isn’t enough, Athens is also the black-eyed pea capital of the United States.

Spring-fed Lake Athens used to be mostly for permanent residents, but these days weekenders own about half the houses. “You’re starting to see more people come out here because places like Lake Lewisville are congested,” says Steve Grant of Steve Grant Real Estate. “This is a completely different game. We’re laid-back and small-town.”

The more upscale developments, which feature homes from $300,000 to $1.5 million, include Green Gate Estates, Impala Point, Impala South, and Plantation Point. You can’t find anything on the lake for less than $150,000, but most properties range from $250,000 to $700,000.

Peggy Gould wasn’t so sure about Lake Athens when her husband Bob suggested they move out there in the mid-’60s. Peggy is the daughter of Joe Lubbin, a former executive vice president of the Dallas Morning News. Her family had lived in Dallas for several generations. But once they moved to the lake, she didn’t miss the Dallas skyline. Her favorite thing about lake living is when several families go out on their barges and tie them together to have dinner or drinks.

“Bob and I went out on the barge yesterday. When we got back, I said, ’Oh, my God. I feel like I’ve been to Hawaii.’ We’re just trying to close the gates on Dallas,” she jokes. “But it is fun to have so many people we know moving out here.”

Lake Texoma
LOCATION:  on the Texas-Oklahoma state line, north of Denison
SIZE: 89,000 acres

Lake Texoma is enormous. For most of its residents, the lake house is their primary residence. Though the real estate market took a downturn when the stock market did, things are up again, according to Steve Cook of Steve Cook and Co. Realtors. Cook’s customers come from North Dallas, Richardson, Plano, Frisco, and McKinney. While many people in the market for a lake house don’t like the restrictions the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers places on a lake, those in Texoma don’t seem to mind. “You get on the water, and it’s such a pristine lake,” Cook says. “I think a lot of that is because the shoreline isn’t highly developed.”

A new development, Diamond Point, brings the lake-property concept to the high-rise condominium. For a little less than $500,000, your view of Lake Texoma can be several stories high, complete with a tram that takes you out to the boathouse. If you’re looking for something a little closer to the ground, you can get anything from a $25,000 cabin to a $1 million estate. Lakefront homes, most of which were built in the ’70s and ’80s, start at about $200,000 (and are being torn down).

Dallas residents Christi and Wade Nicolas spend probably 50 days out of the year with their young children at their home on Lake Texoma. “Everybody’s so busy when you have two working parents,” Wade says. “This is just a time when we go and hang out together. The kids do all sorts of things that don’t involve a TV. We get to see nature and fish, and we even see bald eagles out there sometimes.”

Lake Grapevine
LOCATION:  just north of Grapevine
SIZE: 7,280 acres
OTHER LAKES WITH GREAT NEIGHBORHOODS: Lake Lewisville, Cypress Springs, Possum Kingdom (The Cliffs), Lake Whitney (White Bluff), Richland Chambers (The Wilderness)

Lake Grapevine is the sophisticated cousin of Lake Lewisville. These aren’t weekend homes; these are primary residences.

Lake Grapevine is the sophisticated cousin of Lake Lewisville. Homes here start at $875,000 and go up to $18 million, with most homes selling in the $1 million to $5 million range and most lots going for $275,000 to $3 million. The major high-end subdivisions are Point Noble, Chateau du Lac, and the Landing. These aren’t weekend homes; these are primary residences. Kids attend Lewisville ISD schools, parents come home at night, and families might go for an evening of fishing.

“We’re seeing people from North Dallas, Highland Park, even Fort Worth buying here,” says Jim Striegel, a Realtor with Keller-Williams who specializes in property on Lake Grapevine. “They want property 12 to 15 minutes from the airport. That’s why the north side has done so well. People don’t have to have two homes because everything is so accessible.”

The north side of the lake, where Point Noble was developed, features cliffs as high as 120 feet. The south side is more of a beach waterfront.

Roddy O’Neal, co-chief executive officer at Goldman Sachs’ Archon Financial, closed on his Point Noble home about two years ago. The O’Neals have two children, a senior and a freshman in high school. “It’s just a nice, quiet environment,” he says. “There are a lot of families, and there are some people who are empty-nesters. The younger children can get out and play football in the front yard and not get run over.”

Lake Ray Hubbard
LOCATION: one mile east of Rockwall
SIZE: 22,745 acres
WATERFRONT RESTRICTIONS: depends on location
OTHER LAKES WITHOUT SHORELINE RESTRICTIONS: Cedar Creek, Eagle Mountain, Richland Chambers, Lake Fork, Possum Kingdom, Cypress Springs

Most of the lakes near Dallas—including Joe Pool, Benbrook, Grapevine, Lewisville, Lavon, and Texoma—are owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. In fact, the Corps owns 25 lakes in North Texas, and it owns the shoreline on each. So homeowners can’t build piers, docks, or boathouses.
Three years ago, Cedar Creek Lake, which is more than 50 miles from Dallas, was the closest lake on which you could build a pier, dock, or boathouse. 
Now, you can just head east to our very own Lake Ray Hubbard, which is not a Corps lake. It’s owned by the City of Dallas. Dallas used to impose the same shoreline restrictions on the lake, but a few years ago it struck a deal with every city except Sunnyvale that borders the lake, and now Rowlett, Rockwall, Garland, and Heath can sublease the waterfront property back to the homeowners. The homeowners now have to build their own retaining walls, and they can also build boathouses and the like.

Rowlett was the first city to lease the shoreline back to homeowners, adopting its zoning ordinance in March 2002. The cost to homeowners is about $250, plus probably $40,000 for a retaining wall before a boat dock can be built. Diane and Matt Peterson, who bought their home in 1999, own one of the first two boathouses built as prototypes. The couple and their four boys wanted a place where they could live on the lake and Matt could easily commute to his job in Dallas.

Rowlett’s restrictions inflated the cost of the boathouse by 30 percent—building materials, color schemes, and size are all carefully controlled—but Matt has all he ever wanted in a lake house. “Now I’m in heaven,” he says one day while driving the relatively short commute from city to lake. “It’s a slice of heaven on earth.”

BAIT THE  HOOK: Lake Fork has some of the best bass fishing in the country.

Lake Fork
LOCATION: 75 miles east of Dallas
SIZE: 27,700 acres
OTHER GOOD FISHING LAKES: Richland Chambers, Possum Kingdom, Cypress Springs, Cedar Creek, Lake Lewisville, Lake Tawakoni, Lake Texoma

Everyone who knows Texas lakes knows of Lake Fork’s reputation as one of the best bass lakes in the country. John Bowers, who has a house on the lake, says it’s good for business, too.

“I’ve taken customers fishing out there, which does a couple of things,” says Bowers, senior vice president of sales for CTAP, a telecom firm. “It puts the customer in an environment where they can’t get away from you for eight to 10 hours. So if you have any personality and any ability to catch a fish, you now have a chance to make a buddy. And that is reinforced with something very positive—catching a large fish.”

Once his client catches a 10-pound black bass, Bowers takes his picture and sends the photo with the client’s company logo and Bowers’ company logo on it. That photo might sit on the client’s desk or be sent to friends over the Internet. “People ask, who is CTAP?” says Bowers. “They say, ’That’s my telecom guy. Not only can you go bass fishing with him, you can buy a PVS from him.’”

For most residents, Lake Fork is their primary home. Many full-timers are retired. Those who work locally are either in the fishing or real estate business. Even Bowers’ daughters, ages 3 and 7, know how to throw a line. His older daughter once caught an 8.5-pound bass.

The Dallas market accounts for about 95 percent of Judy Stroman’s business. Stroman, a Realtor with Century 21, says until recently, property prices increased at about 8 percent a year. Lately they’ve gone up even faster. Lands End, probably the nicest subdivision here, has a premier 18-hole golf course and gated waterfront homes ranging from $300,000 to more than $1 million. Most of the older subdivisions were built in the mid-’80s and range from $200,000 to $450,000. “The prices keep going up because there are only so many lakes in Texas,” Stroman says. “People love the water.”

Richland Chambers
LOCATION: 15 miles east of Corsicana, off U.S. Hwy. 287
SIZE: 44,752 acres

Five years ago, we listed Richland Chambers as the hottest up-and-comer—and here it is again. This 16-year-old lake is still a newcomer by local standards.

“Eight out of 10 phone calls are, ’Where is the lake?’” says Jason Burnham of Richland Chambers Realty.

Homes on Richland Chambers start at about $300,000. Because most people are still asking where it is, there is plenty of available space on which to build. And because of a unique zoning arrangement, the 45 subdivisions are growing up gracefully. When Richland Chambers was created, the Texas Legislature adopted a planning and zoning commission specifically for the lake, something that had never been done before.

Dr. Les Walters, a pathologist at Medical City, lives in Plano but escapes to Richland Chambers most weekends. The lake is wide open—even on the Fourth of July, he says. Walters, his wife, and two boys (ages 11 and 14) were looking for a family getaway where they could wake board, water-ski, and just hang out. “When we’re at home, even when we’re all at the house together, we tend to be doing different things,” he says. “The kids have their games. I’ll be working and such. But when we go down there, we have family time as opposed to just having time off and being in the same house.”

Kerens, population 1,681, is the closest town—unless you want to drive to Corsicana. Walters recommends the town’s Double D Diner if you’re hungry.

Possum Kingdom
LOCATION: 75 miles west of Fort Worth
SIZE: 19,700 acres
OTHER GOOD SCUBA DIVING AND SKING LAKES: Richland Chambers and Texoma for skiing; Lake Whitneyfor scuba diving

Possum Kingdom is surrounded by bluffs. They shield the lake from the wind and keep the water smooth. And the walls of the limestone cliffs produce less sediment, so as not to muddy up the water, which is more than 100 feet deep in places. The deer and wild turkeys—and possums, of course—love it out here.

“I’ve lived out here my whole life,” says Lesa Matthews, a Realtor with Possum Kingdom Real Estate. “My grandfather helped build the dam. I’d never leave. You sit on your porch in the morning with your cup of coffee, and you can’t have a better life.”

Development kicked into high gear six or seven years ago, taking prices with it. What started as a lake dotted by fishing cabins is now a resort area with $2.5 million homes, although most fall in the $300,000 to $500,000 range. Teardowns are common, as the land is oftentimes more valuable than the home sitting on it. The high-end gated communities include Sportsman’s World, Gaines Bend, the Cliffs, and the Ranch.

But the area still has a small-town feel, as Lisa Ogle found out when she left her purse at Lumpy’s Barbecue restaurant just after she and her husband Bill, a vice president at Pizza Hut, had closed on their home. The waitress called every Realtor in the area to find out who had just bought a home on a peninsula. That evening, she delivered the purse to the Ogles’ door.

AHOY: Eagle Mountain Lake’s wide-open spaces make it great for sailing.

Eagle Mountain
LOCATION: about an hour and 15 minutes from Dallas,
on the northwest side of Fort Worth
SIZE: 9,200 acres
OTHER GOOD SAILING LAKES: Lake Ray Hubbard, Richland Chambers, Lake Grapevine

Wide open spaces. That’s what sailors love about Eagle Mountain Lake. The lake also has hills around it, which makes regattas more challenging. Lee Johnson and his wife, first mate Patti, built their home on Eagle Mountain a little more than six years ago. They bought a 27-foot J80 and became recreational sailors. Lee, a financial planner, says he races all day at the office, so they don’t race their boat. It’s pure pleasure.

“Sailing puts you in touch with nature,” Patti says. “You can’t master it. You can’t just go where you want to go. The environment is always changing. It’s a constant challenge.”

Donna Van Gundy, a Realtor with DFW Fine Properties, hears from many out-of-state buyers who come across Eagle Mountain on the Internet. One selling point is the lack of waterfront restrictions because the lake is not owned by the Corps of Engineers. Another is its proximity to Fort Worth, Dallas, and the airport.

One new development, the Resort, has lots that are less than an acre starting at $180,000. Most of the established homes were built in the 1960s and sell for between $400,000 and $500,000. So far, new homeowners aren’t tearing down these original homes, although remodeling is big business around Eagle Mountain. On the less desirable Azel side of the lake, you could get a home for $200,000 to $250,000 (but it might sit next door to a trailer).

Not many people sell on Eagle Mountain once they get in. If you want property here, resident Jan Stallons has this advice: “You stalk. And then you pull out your checkbook.”

Dawn McMullan is a D Magazine contributing editor.


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