Many lifetime memories and friendships were forged among the initial 3,000 employees of Longhorn Army Ammunition Plant located in Karnack, Texas, during its years of operation. The plant, some years after it was deactivated by the Army, became the Caddo Lake National Wildlife Refuge, and was officially dedicated in September, 2009. Today, the Refuge offers a host of outdoor opportunities for the public, including an auto route, frequently used by former employees wanting to take a trip down memory lane. “You can see it on their faces”, said one volunteer of the refuge, folks wanting to drive around and remember. They are eager to talk about the importance of their mission there, producing ammunition for the military, which area they worked in, and about the good times they had there, in particular the memories they made and the affection they all shared for a simple wood frame structure, clad in native stone known as Starr Ranch, where company picnics, parties, family cookouts, camping, hunting and fishing trips occurred. It was their gathering place.
Time, nature and neglect took a toll on the structure, which until recently stood, almost in defiance of the elements, a symbol of simpler times. Over the years, many proposals were made to rehabilitate and save the structure, but in the end the costs to do so were prohibitive. But due to the efforts of members of the Friends of Caddo Lake National Wildlife Refuge, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service and the generosity of individual donors, things are beginning to change.
If you travel to the north end of the Refuge acreage by Goose Prairie, you will see a new building springing up that will pay homage to the original Starr Ranch. The building was designed and built by Paul Fortune, and will open to the public in early spring. The new 800 square foot rustic structure utilizes as much of the original materials as possible. Staff members of the Refuge have cleared the area of much of the overgrowth, enlarged the parking area, and repaired the old boat ramp, which will allow for easier access to the new Starr Ranch Pavilion for boaters.
While it is not the old Starr Ranch, it is becoming a new one, where once again visitors can begin making new memories. Gary Endsley, President of the Friends of Caddo Lake National Wildlife Refuge said, “The new day use structure will outfit an additional entryway to the refuge for the public and provide another outdoor venue for groups of all ages.” Plans for the official opening of the pavilion will be announced soon.