Texas State Railroad Loop
- Jacksonville COC, (800) 376-2217, www.jacksonvilletexas.com
- Palestine CVB, (800) 659-3484, www.visitpalestine.com
- City of Rusk, (903) 683-2213, www.rusktx.com
From the intersection of US 79 and US 287 in Palestine, go west on US 298/ SR 19 for 0.8 miles to Palestine Loop 256. Community Forest is located across from the Palestine Civic Center- turn south on S. Armory. Travel 0.1 miles and the forest entrance is on the right; or continue 0.4 miles past the Civic Center and turn south on Upper Lake Road. There is a sign for Lakeshore Park and hiking trails.
In the late 1940's, loblolly and slash pines were planted here, which are now harvested and sold to help fund recreational projects. Under special agreement, Texas Forest Service manages the forest as a 'demonstration' of good forestry management practices. This 600+-acre property was acquired for watershed protection of the two lakes - Upper and Lower Water Works Lakes - that served as the water supply for the City of Palestine.
Today, the forest is used primarily for recreation purposes. The Upper and Lower Water Works Lakes are teaming with fish, wildlife, and wetland vegetation and together cover 42 acres. Majestic pines line one of the entry roads along with dense under brush in other areas. Recreation areas for picnicking encircle the lakes and both lakes have boat ramps for fishing access. Fishing piers are located on both lakes and provide excellent access points not only for fishing but also for bird watching. A variety of upland and riparian communities are located adjacent to the lakes. From the top the dike of Upper Water Works Lake, peer through the woods to the large wetland area below. Look through binoculars at the unique vegetation community that includes rushes, sedges, cattails, wax myrtle, lizard's tail, sweetgum, and willow, while enjoying the sweet fragrance of the honeysuckle flowers.
This is a prime vantage point to view yellow lotus and spikerush, which line the shores of Lower Water Works Lake. An array of wildflowers can be viewed along the roadside between the two water bodies. Several species of dragonflies can be observed around the lake edge, including various skimmers and pond hawks.
Hike on the 1.7-mile trail around the 12-acre Upper Water Works Lake. Trees and shrubs along the path have been marked with interpretive signs identifying black walnut, American basswood, black tupelo, and flowering dogwood. Bridges and walkways across low lying areas as well as a scenic overlook onto the lake are a perfect place to search for waterfowl and wading birds. Listen for Pine Warblers, Tufted Titmice, White-eyed Vireos, and perhaps catch a glimpse of a Ruby-throated Hummingbird. All of these songs are set to the beat of woodpeckers drumming on hollow snags.
Phone: (903) 723-3014, www.visitpalestine.com
Texas State Railroad State Park - Palest
From the intersection of Loop 256 and Hwy 84 on the east side of Palestine, take Hwy 84 east 2.4 miles to the park entrance at PR 70.
The Texas State Railroad is one of the nation's largest and most unique steam train operations. Take the 50-mile Victorian-style train ride into Rusk and enjoy the beautiful scenery. The train is a fully self-contained railroad and operates on a varied schedule from March through November. The train passes through the I.D. Fairchild State Forest and provides wonderful wildlife viewing opportunities.
Catalpa and sycamore trees line the road as visitors make their way to the steam engine train. A sea of yellow Coreopsis grows in a field near the nature trail, which winds through a narrow riparian corridor in the campground and then deeper into the hardwood forest. The raucous call of a family of crows can be heard above, while insects buzz along the trail. The woodlands offer a place of reflection and enjoyment whether bird watching, studying the abundant plant life, or exploring the forest floor for insects and other creatures.
The narrow creek flows over the exposed bedrock into the pool below. Listen and watch for the Waterthrush that may be active around the waters edge. The enticing pond is loaded with dragonflies and aquatic plants and insects. Look along the water's edge for a large snag where Red-shouldered Hawks like to perch or listen for Summer Tanagers and White-eyed Vireos.
Phone: (903) 683-2561, Texas State Railroad SP
I.D. Fairchild State Forest
From Rusk, take Hwy 84 west. The main body of the forest is 13.7 miles from Hwy 69 in Rusk or 12.1 from FM 343 on the west side of town and 3.8 miles west of Maydelle.
From Jacksonville, take FR 2138 south about 12 miles to Hwy 84 in Maydelle (west of Rusk). Turn right (west) on Hwy 84 and the forest is 3.8 miles west. It is on both the north and south sides of Hwy 84. Note: You will see signs on smaller, outlying tracts before you come to the main body of the forest.
Upon entering I.D. Fairchild State Forest, you are immediately swept into the 2,740-acre wonderland teaming with birds, insects, butterflies, and other wildlife. The tall pines and mixture of upland and bottomland hardwoods offer excellent habitat for wildlife viewing. The healthy and productive mature ecosystem that exists today is the result of an intense public stewardship to rebuild the forest after heavy logging, devastating wildfires, and insect epidemics that were common at the turn of the century. The forest is designated as 'demonstration' forest where research areas have been installed to test various management techniques, forest genetics, and forest product utilization studies.
The endangered and spectacular Red-cockaded Woodpecker is a year-round resident of the forest. Early morning and late evening, especially during April through June, are the best times for viewing the birds as they are leaving and entering the roosting cavities. However, if you are in the Red-cockaded Woodpecker area during nesting season, please spend no more than 15 minutes in area and cause as little disturbance as possible.
Ten miles of hiking trails meander through the forest and make their way to creeks and bottomlands, offering a variety of wildlife habitat. The roadsides and forest openings are good places to look for wildflowers such as the black-eyed Susan and dayflowers. Watch the road and roadside for butterflies such as various swallowtails, crescents, and the Painted Lady.
Walk, bike, horseback ride, or drive the numerous forest roads to see and hear the plethora of avian inhabitants. The forest is home to several species of woodpeckers, Yellow-breasted Chats, Summer Tanagers, Indigo Buntings, Cedar Waxwings, Carolina Wrens, Eastern Phoebes, White and Red-eyed vireos, Painted Buntings, Eastern Bluebirds, Pine Warblers, Northern Cardinals, and more.
An old bridge is located on one of the forest roads and provides a relaxing environment along a creek within the bottomland hardwood forest. Notice the gradual change in plant communities as you descend from the higher elevation upland areas into this riparian area.
Phone: (903) 586-7545, http://txforestservice.tamu.edu
Cherokee Rose B&B
From Hwy 69 in Rusk, take Hwy 84 west 4.5 miles to the B&B. From downtown on the square, take Hwy 84 west 3.2 miles to the B&B. Located 0.5 miles west of the Texas State Railroad State Park.
This charming bed and breakfast is nestled in the heart of pineywoods and bottomland hardwoods. The B&B is a reconstructed Dog Trot House similar to the style from early Texas. The large porches and numerous chairs provide ample opportunity for relaxing and watching the nearby bird feeders. The 11-acre property provides great opportunity for a stroll to see the abundant wildlife. The owner is a Texas Master Naturalist and is in the process of creating a butterfly garden. The surrounding natural habitat and landscaping are wildlife attractants.
Several seed and hummingbird feeders are located off the back porch. Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are some of the most frequent guests to the property. They can be heard buzzing and clicking as they carouse around the feeders. After feeding, the birds will zip within feet of your head as they fly in search of the perfect perch. If the lighting is right and they've slowed enough for a good look, you could glimpse the fire red throat of the male.
Cardinals, Blue Jays, Red-winged Blackbirds, Chickadees, Mourning Doves, and Tufted Titmice are frequent visitors to the seed feeders. Eastern Phoebes also nest in the eaves of the B&B. Owls, Eastern Kingbirds, Painted Buntings, Red-eyed Vireos, Pileated Woodpeckers, and Red-tailed Hawks are also noted visitors to the property.
The viewing opportunities on the property are not exclusive to birds. Other wildlife includes Gray Fox and Flying Squirrels, Raccoons, Rabbits, and White-tailed Deer. Other less obvious wildlife species such as native small mammals also reside on the property. Plants include eastern red cedar, water oak, mimosa, sassafras, loblolly pine, and sweetgum. Established bluebird boxes and wildflowers decorate several open fields on the property. Black-eyed Susan and larkspur are just a few of the colorful wildflowers found here.
Stroll along the forest edge to the gazebo and spring-fed pond, which hosts Catfish, Bass, Blue Gill, and Red-eared Sliders. Excellent viewing opportunities of both young and adult Night Herons exist as they nest in the nearby trees. Bladderwort and hosts of other emergent wetland vegetation line the pond's edges and provide excellent feeding and resting grounds for dragonflies and damselflies.
Phone: (903) 683-1985, www.thecherokeerose.net
Texas State Railroad State Park - Rusk T
From downtown on the square in Rusk, take Hwy 84 west 2.7 miles to the park entrance. From the intersection of Hwy 69 and 84 West, go 4.0 miles to the station.
As Eastern Bluebirds welcome you into the park, feast your eyes upon the gorgeous 15-acre lake outstretched before you. Wetland vegetation including willows, smartweeds, rushes, sedges, lizard's tail, yellow lotus, buttonbush, and bald cypress jut out from the water surface along the northern end of the lake. Listen to the sounds of Barn Swallows and Red-winged Blackbirds accompanied by the calls of frogs from nearby lily pads.
The parking area near the lake is lined with sycamores, Catalpa, sweetgum, ash, willow, mimosa, and a variety of other trees and shrubs. As you enter the nature trail, a forested wetland appears. Observe the dark watermarks along the bases of the trees, a historical indicator of the natural ecological processes of this system. Wooden signs along the trail display the names of trees and shrubs found throughout the property. Additionally, a bird blind along the trail offers several viewing windows to view birds such as woodpeckers, chickadees, Tufted Titmice, Pine Warblers, Carolina Wrens and more. Watch for Gray Squirrels scampering around the area. Don't forget to look and listen for Eastern Phoebe and Painted Bunting.
The trail terminates at the campground near the restrooms and a playground. An additional trail traverses the southern side of the lake between the railroad tracks and the waters edge. Board the historic train at the Victorian-style train station located along the southeast side of the lake and travel to the station in Palestine. The 50-mile round trip steam-engine excursion takes about four hours.
Phone: (903) 683-2561, Texas State Railroad SP
Nichol's Green Park
From the intersection of US 79 and US 69 in Jacksonville, go south on US 69 for approximately 1.3 miles to Beaumont St. Turn east on Beaumont St., then right on Andrew St.; Nichol's Green Park is about 0.2 miles on the right.
This excellent park has a 1.0-mile paved trail that provides access to some of the most beautiful sections of the park. The park trail winds down into riparian woodlands along a creek. The steep slopes and ample vegetation provide a calming atmosphere where you can take a walk, sit and reflect on one of the many benches along the trail, roller blade, or jog. Cascading waterfalls flow down the native geologic formations of the area into a large reflecting pool below. The ferns and other understory plants seem to thrive in the cool, dark spaces of the forest. Sunlight dapples the pavement as it beams through the leaves of the willows, pecans, sweetgums, sycamores, hickories, and water oaks, creating a unique and ever changing pattern on the ground.
The trail also passes through some open fields where bees may be observed busily pollinating the large clusters of McCartney rose shrubs. Keep a watchful eye for sparrows, bluebirds, mockingbirds, and other edge or field-dwelling birds. In the summer, Scissor-tailed Flycatchers may be observed nesting in the trees near the open areas.
An interesting wetland area with a large observation platform is also located along the trail. Aquatic and emergent vegetation line the wetland edges, dominated by wax myrtle. Hundreds of skimmers, pond hawks, and darners (dragonflies) light across the water in a rapid series of darting, occasionally settling on a piece of vegetation.
Phone: (903) 586-5977.
Lake Jacksonville Concession Area and Ca
From US 79 in Jacksonville turn west on 79 and make a left on Main. From Main, turn right onto Larissa. Travel approximately 0.3 miles and go left on College St. Travel south 1.1 miles on College St. to Byrd Rd. Note: College turns into Byrd Rd. when the road bends right (also called CR 3129). Follow Byrd Rd. to its dead end in the campground (1.9 miles).
Sycamore centurions line the entrance to this park, welcoming approaching visitors. The road ends with a breathtaking view of Lake Jacksonville and its calm, tranquil waters. RV and tent camping sites along with screened shelters line the peninsula shoreline, with its shallow clear water and sandy bottom. Numerous trees including Catalpa, pines, bald cypress, willows, and sweetgum provide excellent perching locations for a variety of birds. Enjoy swimming in the designated swimming area or just relish in the gentle lakeshore breeze. Watch the flowers for butterflies such as American Snouts, Hairstreaks or Eastern Tailed-Blues. Launch your boat or kayak and enjoy a day of fishing for Bass, Crappie, Perch, and Catfish.
Emergent vegetation along the shore includes a unique Spikerush and Seedboxes. This park is an aquatic vegetation demonstration site and has partnered with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to study how aquatic plants grow in reservoir conditions. Stroll along the waters edge to study the vegetation and enjoy watching the damselflies and dragonflies.
Great Blue Herons hunt along the shore where a watchful eye may catch them piercing a fish. The vast open waters provide a wonderful opportunity for viewing water birds. Although domestic waterfowl abound within the park, migration is also an excellent time to visit the park. Eastern Bluebirds join you at the park entrance, while Swallows and Purple Martins dance overhead. Listen for calls of the Red-winged Blackbird and Grackle. In the evening, prowling wildlife such as Raccoons, Skunks, and Opossums may be likely visitors.
A pine grove stand located in the park provides an excellent opportunity of visitors to view a variety of woodpeckers and nuthatches. In the winter, White-breasted, Red-breasted, and Brown-headed nuthatches can all be observed.
Phone: (903) 586-5977.