Paddling possibilities along the Sabine River pondered

Kayakers paddle down the Sabine River, slated for a handful of new-and-improved launches through a multi-city effort spearheaded by Gregg County and developed by MHS Planning & Design, an outdoor and water-based recreation firm. Gladewater’s public access ramp is one of only two open sites on Gregg County’s stretch of 38-mile stretch of river right now, but still-developing plans call for at least two more publicly-accessible ramps in the near future on MHS’ plans for the Sabine River Paddling Trail.

A countywide coalition aims to improve paddling possibilities along the Sabine River.
The Gregg County communities of Gladewater, Kilgore, Longview, Easton, Lakeport and White Oak are collaborating on a new (and improved) set of boat and kayak launches on the shared waterway, kick-started by a development grant from Sabine River Authority.
A draft plan for the project goes before the county commissioners court next month, and co-organizers for the project met in Longview last week to review the working proposal from MHS Planning & Design for the ‘Sabine River Paddling Trail.’
“I think we’ve all recognized that the river is an underutilized asset for our region,” says Kilgore City Manager Josh Selleck. “It’s the reason that Kilgore, Longview and the county began this project, ultimately cooperating with all the cities along the river in Gregg County to improve access.
“I can’t wait to see this project come to fruition.”
According to City of Longview’s Shawn Hara, Gregg County officials were quick to get behind the concept, spearheading coordination from all the communities involved.
“We got a grant from the Sabine River Authority to do a feasibility study,” he added, “looking for options to improve access and implement a paddling trail. There’s about 40 miles of river within Gregg County, from about Hwy. 271 in Gladewater going to Lakeport at Hwy. 149, but those are the only two public access points.
“The goal is to make some improvements at those two points and hopefully add some additional access points.”
The still-developing idea picked up momentum in Spring 2023 then took off in June when SRA’s grant enabled local officials to bring on board MHS, a Texas-based outdoor and water-based recreation developer with offices in Dallas and Tyler. Those funds essentially covered planning fees and a countywide assessment, according to Hunter Rush, partner and project manager at the firm.
“Our objective was to study land ownership, usability of the river and where and how we could get more boat ramps or kayak launches to encourage more use.”
In addition to enhancing and improving the two existing launches at opposite ends of the county in Gladewater and Lakeport, MHS is recommending three additional launches with two currently on the drawing board. One proposed site would be located at the City of Kilgore’s water intake on the Sabine, the second at FM2087. There are other opportunities, but they’re still in development as the project progresses.
“We’re encouraging the county as a whole and each individual municipality to work with local landowners for different partnership opportunities,” Rush said. Importantly, “The cities are not going to come in and take anyone’s land; there’s no eminent domain or any of that talk.”
The vast majority of potential access points are in unincorporated areas, situated outside the city limits of the communities involved, Selleck noted, “which is part of the reason we think it’s never been completely developed.”
According to Rush, each launch will cost approximately $1.5 million. Granted, that’s an early, rough number.
“It really will be site-specific and amenity-based for their final cost,” he said. Developments at each location will vary on a variety of factors. For example, “Some will have a boat ramp and a kayak launch; some will just have a kayak launch.
Meanwhile, “It’s important to note there are different funding sources. I think the majority of the costs will hopefully come through Texas Parks & Wildlife and the municipalities.”
Any local dollars spent will hopefully return to their home communities in the long-term, especially if the paddling trail is recognized, supported and promoted by the TPW, a key target.
“One of the objectives of this is to encourage economic growth through more people being present, people coming,” Rush said. “I think there’s opportunities for outfitters kayak renters and people leading guided trips.
Most likely, the spots will be developed by the public sector before entrepreneurs are enlisted for the future: “At this time, I don’t think any of the cities have any desire to operate. It would all be from the private side.”
MHS presented their draft plan to stakeholders and supporters last week at Longview’s Maude Cobb Convention & Activity Center. White Oak City Coordinator Jimmy Purcell was looking forward to the meeting, eager to see development that could benefit his community in the long-run.
“I think it’s a neat thing to get done,” he said.
Local business owners are already getting behind the idea as well, said Gladewater Fire Chief Mike Simmons, from kayak rental to concessions.
“I think it’s going to be a really cool thing,” he said, and GFD personnel are prepared to respond should the need arise following increased usage of the river.
The next key step is Gregg County Commissioners’ consideration in November.
“As soon as that is adopted by them, the goal is to work with individual municipalities,” Rush said, “specifically Gladewater and Lakeport as the first we’re going to work with” to pursue funding, design and construction.
County Judge Bill Stoudt’s pleased to see the combined effort moving forward.
“All the cities came together and united and agreed that’s something that needed to be done,” he said. “I think it’s phenomenal; I’m excited about it.”
Already, he added, Sabine River Authority has contributed in multiple ways, such as a separate grant to bolster water rescue equipment resources.
“It’s a very positive thing for the community. I think it’s going to promote a lot of tourism, spawn new business – I’m excited about it.”

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