Butterfly at Big Thicket National Preserve

Photo above: Pipevine Swallowtail butterfy at Big Thicket. Courtesy National Park Service. Right: Sundew Trail boardwalk at the Preserve. Source: National Park Service.

Sundew Boardwalk Trail at Big Thicket National Preserve

Big Thicket National Preserve

In 1974, the United States Congress decided that two formerly and mostly pristine areas of the United States needed protection and a new designation. So, in south Florida, even south of the Everglades, they created Big Cypress National Preserve, and in Texas, on lands where oil derricks once rose amidst a forest so dense seeking traces of its past were difficult, another creation was completed. Today, we have Big Thicket National Preserve winding its way north of Beaumont, home to the Spindletop oil discovery in 1901, in a multitude of ribbon park units to recreate within on water, the Neches River, amongst others, and land that has been preserved in seven counties and on over one hundred thousand acres.

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Texas Oil Drilling

Big Thicket Then

Settlement of the Big Thicket area shows little evidence, although the various museums in the local towns do a great job of telling that story (Museum of Hardin County in Kountze, Spindletop in Beaumont, and the Heritage Village Museum in Woodville among them). Of course, the true measure of the Big Thicket region is in its biodiversity and is sometimes referred to as the "Biological Crossroads of North America." There are eight to eleven ecosystems here. Early Native Americans were evident as nomadic tribes, but only settled, the Alabama-Coushatta tribe, in the area permanantly in 1780. They were bought out in 1854. Even the Spanish explorers and their missionaries avoided it due to the density of the forests. After Mexican indepedence, it was still largely undeveloped. It was not until the lumbering industry took a foothold from 1880-1930, that significant settlement began, although the area north of Beaumont is still not highly populated.

Many of the towns in the area have an oil industry or railroad past. Kountze was established in 1881, named for the founders of the Sabine and East Texas Railroad, and is still big in the lumber industry. Beaumont can trace its history back to the Neches River Settlement of 1824, became a town in 1838, and came to oil industry prominence with the founding of the Spindletop gusher in 1901.

Photo above: Oil Derricks at Sour Lake, Texas, 1903, Texas State Library and Archives via Wikipedia Commons. Below: Sign to the Turkey Creek Unit of Big Thicket National Preserve. Courtesy National Park Service.

Big Thicket National Preserve

Big Thicket Now

The Preserve was established on October 11, 1974 with various units stretching north from Beaumont in a ribbon park fashion. Two significant expansions followed in 1993 and 2011. Big Thicket follows various water bodies, the Neches River, Turkey Creek, Village Creek, and more, and includes bayous, thick groves of trees with the dominant swamp pine taking the lead, and meadows. A Visitor Center is located in the central part of the park, including an orientation film and park rangers to assist with suggesting the right locations for the activities you might prefer. Birding is a favorite activity of some with over three hundred species to attempt to see in the park.

There are forty miles of hiking trails, three Texas paddling trails, good spots to fish, and even permit hunting on some sections of the preserve. Primitive camping is allowed, but there is no developed campgrounds with amenities here.

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Wetland swamp at Big Thicket

Big Thicket

Things You Should Not Miss

1. Head to the Visitor Center and watch the fifteen minute film about the area of the Big Thicket and its early settlers. Ask about ranger led activities, whether hiking, canoeing, or birding.

2. Pick a hiking trail and hoof it. The Turkey Creek Trail, in the same unit as the Visitor Center, has a variety of trailheads, and you can choose just how much of the fifteen mile full trail you want to tackle.

3. If you want to get wet, there's a few options here. Canoe one of the Texas paddling trails, put on those fishing waders and fish along the various creeks and Neches River, or maybe you just want to dip your toes in a bayou. Your choice, but come prepared, although there are local outfitters who rent and even ranger led trips.

Photo above: Wetland swamp at Big Thicket National Preserve, 2014, Carol M. Highsmith. Source: Library of Congress.

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