Big Woods Loop
- Centerville COC, 903-536-7261, www.rtis.com/reg/centerville
- Corsicana COC, 877-376-7477, www.corsicana.org
- City of Ennis, 972-878-1234, www.ennis-texas.com
- Mexia Area COC, 888-535-5476, mexiachamber.com
- Palestine COC, 903-729-6066, www.palestinechamber.org
From I 45 in Ennis, take Exit 251-B, traveling west on Ennis Avenue for 2.1 miles to Jeter Drive. Turn right on Jeter Drive and travel 0.8 miles along Jeter Drive. Turn left onto Baldridge Drive and travel 0.2 miles to Kachina Prairie located on the left.
Kachina Prairie represents a remaining remnant of Blackland Prairie in Texas. Once much more extensive in east central Texas, most Blackland Prairie habitat has been converted to other land uses. Fortunately, we have examples like Kachina Prairie to remind us of what the original tallgrass prairie looked like. The conservation of this remnant prairie is the result of action by concerned citizens of Ennis. The site now serves as a center for research, as well as a successful example of grassland restoration. While meandering through the prairie in spring or summer, listen for Western Kingbirds and Scissor-tailed Flycatchers twittering overhead. In winter, search the brambles and dense thickets for wintering sparrows such as Lincoln's, White-throated and perhaps Harris's. In spring, the prairie comes alive with wildflowers complete with an array of attendant butterflies. Look for Pipevine and Spicebush Swallowtails, as well as Variegated and Gulf Fritillaries.
Phone: 972-875-1234, www.visitennis.org
From I 45/ US 287 in Ennis, take Exit 251 and continue north on the frontage road to
US 287 Business/ E. Ennis Ave. Turn left on US 287 Business and follow west 2.3 miles to Ennis Parkway. Turn left (south) onto Ennis Parkway and travel 0.4 miles to Joe Barton Parkway, crossing over US 287. Turn left on Joe Barton Parkway and travel 0.2 miles to Bluebonnet Park; turn right into the park.
Bluebonnet Park is the latest addition to Ennis's growing family of community parks. The park offers a large pond and a nature trail, as well as a picnic area and baseball diamonds. The open lawns around the main parking lot are patrolled by Loggerhead Shrikes and Scissor-tailed Flycatchers, along with numerous dragonflies that are concentrated around the large pond. Check the pond carefully for Eastern Pondhawk, Blue Dasher and Eastern Amberwing, while Black and Carolina Saddlebags can be found roaming further a field. Walk the nature trail to see White-eyed Vireos and Downy Woodpeckers along with Northern Cardinals and Tufted Titmice. Look for migrants in the trees during spring and fall, especially after a north wind and rain.
Phone: 972-875-1234, www.visitennis.org
Buffalo Creek Wetland
From I 45/ US 287 in Ennis, take Exit 246 and continue north on the frontage road to US 287 Business. Turn left (south) and follow 3.4 miles to Ensign Rd. Turn left (south) onto Ensign Rd. and follow 1.4 miles to Observation Drive. Turn right on Observation Drive and travel 1.1 mile to Bardwell Dam Road. Turn left on Bardwell Dam Road and travel 1.3 miles to the Buffalo Creek Wetland on the right.
Buffalo Creek Wetland is the ideal place for an early morning stroll or a late afternoon bike ride. The series of ponds at the center of the park hold numerous species of wildlife. Great Blue Herons and Great Egrets stalk the shallows for frogs and crayfish while Red-winged Blackbirds loudly proclaim their territory from the bull rushes around the edge. During winter the wetlands attract waterfowl, including Blue-winged and Green-winged Teal. Shorebirds tend to drop in for short visits throughout the spring and fall. Follow the trail into the woods and search for woodland species such as Downy and Red-bellied Woodpeckers, and listen for Barred Owls calling from deep within the trees. The large area of open grassland next to the dam is abuzz with Dickcissels in the spring and can hold numerous sparrows in the winter.
Phone: 972-875-1234, www.swf-wc.usace.army.mil/bardwell/
Reed Wildlife Ranch
Take Exit 231 off I 45 in Corsicana and go east on SR 31 for 12.7 miles to FM 636 in Kerens. Turn left onto FM 636 and go 1.8 miles to NE 2160, turn right and travel 1.4 miles to NE 3070. At NE 3070 turn left and go 0.7 miles to NE 3090, turn right onto NE 3090 and continue 2.0 miles to the entrance gate (at the end of sandy lane).
The Reed family has lived along the Trinity River for generations, and over the years, has gained a wonderful appreciation for the land. Cabins stand where Plains Indians once camped; providing sweeping views of the river, and the woods and prairies that follow its meanderings. Traveling with Jim Reed over the hills and hollows that encompass the family ranch, visitors are sure to share in his appreciation of the land and his vision for stewardship. Areas of edge habitat between open grassland and oak savanna are good places to see Indigo and Painted Buntings, while Lark Sparrows are more common in the open fields. Black and Turkey Vultures cruise the skies in search of carrion and are regularly joined by the Crested Caracara, an uncommon resident this far north and east. Many ponds scattered throughout the property attract herons and egrets in summer and large flocks of waterfowl in the winter. A visit to the Reed ranch is a great way to see and learn about Texas wildlife, land management, and private efforts to provide recreational opportunities while conserving and managing habitats. Event and access publications are available.
Phone: 903-872-6836, www.reedfamilyranch.com
Richland Creek Wildlife Management Area
North Unit: From I 45 in Corsicana, take Exit 229 for US 287. Go south on US 287 for 24.2 miles to the designated entry point on the left.
South Unit: From I 45 in Corsicana, take Exit 229 for US 287. Go south on US 287 for 24.1 miles to FM 488 (directly behind Richland Chambers Dam). Turn right (south) on FM 488 and travel 2.4 miles to designated entry point on left.
Richland Creek WMA is located where the Post Oak Savannah ecological region meets the Blackland Prairie. The WMA lies almost entirely within the Trinity River floodplain and is subject to periodic and prolonged flooding. The area supports a wide array of bottomland and wetland dependent wildlife and vegetation communities.
Bottomland hardwood forest characterized by cedar elm, sugarberry, and green ash dominate the area. Honey locust, boxelder, and black willow are also common. Pockets of bur oak, shumard oak, overcup oak, water oak, willow oak, and native pecan also occur. These forests serve as nesting and brood rearing habitat for many species of neotropical birds. Numerous marshes and sloughs throughout the area provide habitat for migrating and wintering waterfowl, wading birds and shore birds, as well as diverse aquatic life.
The north unit of the management area has numerous open fields and natural and man-made wetlands. Birds such as Dickcissel, Painted Buntings, Scissor-tailed Flycatchers, Herons, and Egrets are often seen here. In spring and fall, migratory shorebirds are common. Look for waterfowl in the winter and Wood Storks in late summer. The north unit is the site for a cooperative agreement between TPWD and Tarrant Regional Water District where 2,000 acres of shallow water impoundments are being constructed. Raw water from the Trinity River will be pumped and circulated through these impoundments to purify the water for human use. This project displays the value of using natural ecological processes for the mutual benefits to wildlife and mankind. Species checklists for birds, reptiles, amphibians, fishes, and mammals are available at the management area office. Over 250 birds have been verified on the management area, the majority of which have been in conjunction with wetlands on the north unit.
The south unit is characterized by bottomland hardwood forest with massive Bald Cypress. The large trees along the entry road host Northern Parula as well as Prothonotary Warblers. Check the large pond near the entrance for Snowy Egrets and Little Blue Herons and the power lines for Red-tailed Hawks. A highlight of a visit to the WMA in early summer is the numerous butterflies found along the access roads. Hackberry Emperors are particularly numerous. Watch roadside fields of Indian blanket and black-eyed Susan for Palamedes Swallowtail. Coyote and Bobcat are present although they are rarely seen, but their scat in obvious places along the road indicates their presence. These scats are a great source of minerals for butterflies and tend to create small concentrations where they occur. Question Mark and Mourning Cloak are especially fond of such delights. Use of the area requires purchase of an APHP or LPUP with required daily registration. Please note that the entire area is closed to the general public during special, permitted hunts.
Phone: 903-389-7080, Richland Creek WMA
Gus Engeling WMA
From the intersection of US 287 West and SH 19 in Palestine, go west on US 287 for 16.2 miles.
The area is comprised of 2,000 acres of hardwood bottomland floodplain and almost 500 acres of natural watercourse, 350 acres of wetlands, and nearly 300 acres of sphagnum moss bogs. The area has rolling sandy hills dominated by post oak uplands, bottomland hardwood forests, natural springs, pitcher plant bogs, sloughs, marshes, and relict pine communities. Vegetation present in the uplands includes a dense overstory of oak, hickory, elm, and gum with shade tolerant flowering dogwood, American beautyberry, greenbrier, farkleberry, yaupon, possumhaw, dewberry, and hawthorn beneath. Common grasses include little and broomsedge bluestems, slender Indiangrass, purpletop, beaked panicum, and spike uniola. Oak trees, mostly water and willow oak, are the dominant trees in the bottomlands. Common wetland plants include yellow lotus, common duckweed, sedges, rushes, pondweed, giant cutgrass, and plumegrass. Depending on rainfall and weather conditions, spring displays of flowering dogwood and wildflowers can be spectacular.
The Gus Engeling WMA has a rich variety of wildlife. Currently 36 mammals, 140 birds, 55 reptiles and amphibians, 53 fishes and 975 plant species have been documented. There's no guarantee, but the observant visitor may see White-tailed Deer, Gray Squirrels, Fox Squirrels, Raccoons, Beavers, Armadillos, Alligators,Wood Ducks, Purple Gallinules, or Pileated Woodpeckers. Look for Prothonotary Warblers in bottomland forests and check the tops of the tallest trees for Parula Warblers singing their buzzy trill. Visitors may enjoy nature viewing, bird watching, photography, hiking, camping and the general beauty of nature. Botanists and wildflower enthusiasts may revel in the dazzling spring and fall displays.
A self-guided auto tour takes a visitor through 10 stops which address wildlife and habitat management techniques. In addition, the Beaver Pond Nature Trail and Dogwood Nature trail offer visitors the chance to personally experience the lush green mysteries of East Texas. But be warned, all four varieties of venomous snakes occur in this area - so please watch your step. No permit is required for the driving tour and nature trails, but more extensive use of the area requires purchase of an Annual Public Hunting Permit or Limited Public Use Permit and daily on-site registration. These permits are available at all license sale locations in Texas or by calling 1-800-895-4248. Permits are not for sale at the WMA. Please note that the entire area is closed to the general public during special, permitted hunts.
Phone: 903-928-2251. Gus Engeling WMA
The Bigwoods on the Trinity
From the intersection of US 287 West and SR 19 in Palestine, go west on US 287 for 9.6 miles to FM 321. Turn left (south) on FM 321 and follow it 9.0 miles west to Bigwoods on the Trinity on the left.
Bigwoods on the Trinity is one of the best-kept secrets in east Texas. Originally distinguished for phenomenal duck hunting, these 7000 acres of Trinity Bottomland are now open to more public access. Bob McFarlane's visionary approach to conserving the swampy bottoms he loved to explore as a child is truly remarkable. Less than two hours from the Trinity River that dwindles to a canal ditch as it passes through Dallas and Ft. Worth, the river returns to its original condition, including periodic flooding of thousands of acres. This area still runs wild with American Alligators floating along the creeks and a few Mountain Lions still rearing their young on White-tailed Deer and feral hogs. The ponds and swamps along the Trinity host large numbers of Anhingas, Herons and Egrets. Late each summer Wood Storks stop over from their breeding grounds further south to stalk the drying ponds. In the fall, heavy rains cause the river to overflow into the woods just in time for the arrival of thousands of migrant ducks, which spread throughout the woods feasting on acorns and attracting the hunters that discovered and have since preserved the area.
Phone: 903-928-2721, www.bigwoods.net
Fairfield Lake State Park
From I 45 in Fairfield, take Exit 197 for Hwy 84. Go east 1.4 miles on Hwy 84 to FM 488. Go left (north) on FM 488 for 1.7 miles to FM 2570. Turn right (east) on FM 2570 and follow 1.2 miles to FM 3285, which is the Park Entrance Road. Turn right on FM 3285 and go 3.2 miles to the front gate.
Fairfield Lake is well renowned for its winter population of Bald Eagles, but it hosts many more species as well. Wildlife found in the park include Osprey, White-tailed Deer, Raccoons, Foxes, Beavers, Squirrels, and Armadillos The deep woods and flooded forest around the lake host numerous Prothonotary Warblers in spring and summer and in the late afternoon the woods reverberate with the deep hoots of Barred Owls. The 2-mile nature trail takes visitors to the edges of the lake where families of Wood Ducks paddle through the reeds and Red-winged Blackbirds call from perches. In summer, Forster's Terns can be seen perched on the navigation buoys and flying in search of fish. Franklin's Gulls and White Pelicans are occasional visitors. A 15-mile trail provides hiking and mountain bike access from one end of the park to the other. Much of the trail is adjacent to the 2400-acre Fairfield Lake. While entering and leaving the park be sure to check the feeder at the entrance for Ruby-throated Hummingbirds.
Phone: 903-389-4514, Fairfield Lake SP
Confederate Reunion Grounds State History
At the intersection of Hwy 84 and 14 in Mexia, go south 1.1 miles on Hwy 14 to FM 1633. Turn right onto FM 1633 and go 4.4 miles to FM 2705. Turn right onto FM 2705 and go 0.1 miles to the entrance to the park on the left.
In 1889, twenty-four years after the end of the Civil War, veterans of the confederacy in Limestone and Freestone counties assembled as an encampment and formed the Joe Johnston Camp No. 94 - United Confederate Veterans. The organization's purpose was to perpetuate the memories of fallen comrades, aid disabled survivors and indigent widows and orphans of deceased confederate soldiers, and to preserve the fraternity that grew out of the war. The 1889 meeting was the first of a series of annual reunions that continued with few interruptions for the next 57 years.
This wooded bend of the Navasota River is also an attractive site for wildlife. The river itself is host to several species of turtles that bask on the numerous logs and branches along the riverside. Look for the Mississippi Map Turtle and the Western Chicken Turtle along the main channel and Common Musk Turtle along the side streams. Check the woods for noisy White-eyed Vireos and Brown Thrashers, and scan the riverside trees for perching Belted Kingfishers. The dry leaf litter on the forest floor is habitat for the brilliant blue-tailed Five-lined Skink and the copper colored Ground Skink - so watch where you step.
Attractions include historic buildings such as the 1872 Heritage House, an 1893 dance pavilion, as well as a Civil War, vintage, steel-barreled Val Verde cannon, two scenic footbridges that span Jack's Creek, a hiking trail, fishing, and boating/canoeing. The canoe trip from Confederate Reunion Grounds to Fort Parker is a 3-mile trip on the Navasota River. Fort Parker State Park offers shuttle service when prearranged.
Phone: 254-562-5751, Confederate Reunion Grounds SHS
Fort Parker State Park
At the intersection of Hwy 84 and 14 in Mexia, go south 6.6 miles on Hwy 14 to PR 28. Turn right and the park headquarters will be on your right.
The park was named for Fort Parker, a nearby historic settlement established in 1833, and the site of the well-known Comanche Indian raid in May 1836, during which Cynthia Ann Parker was captured. During captivity, Cynthia Ann became the mother of the last great Comanche chief, Quanah Parker. The old fort was reconstructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps as a 1936 centennial project.
Fort Parker State Park encircles a small reservoir on the Navasota River. The lake and the surrounding woodland provide excellent opportunities for wildlife viewing. In winter, the lake attracts White Pelicans as well as Double-crested and occasionally Neotropic Cormorants. A variety of waterfowl can be seen in the winter months and Wood Ducks are present year round. The woodlands along the Navasota River upstream from the reservoir ring with the cries of Red-bellied, Red-headed, Downy, and Hairy woodpeckers. While exploring, keep an eye out for Eastern Screech-Owls and Great Horned and Barred owls as well. Check just downstream from the dam for a variety of turtles, including Mississippi Map, Western Chicken and Pallid Spiny Softshell. Great Blue or Green Herons are also commonly seen here.
The Friends of Fort Parker, an outstanding park-support organization, operate boat tours of Lake Fort Parker. Weekend tours are Saturday at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Contact the park for lake level/conditions and a current schedule. Wildflower tours (on a trailer with bench seating) are available March through July, Monday through Friday by reservation. History enthusiasts should be sure to plan a visit to nearby Old Fort Parker to learn more about the fascinating history of this area.
Phone: 254-562-5751, Fort Parker SP
Fort Boggy State Park
From I 45 in Centerville, Exit 164 and go east 0.4 miles on Hwy 7; then south on Hwy 75 for 4.9 miles to park on right. Or from I 45 in Leona take Exit 156 and go east on Hwy 977 for 0.7 miles, then go north on Hwy 75 for 2.3 miles to park on left.
Fort Boggy State Park is located along Boggy Creek, which flows east into the Trinity River. The terrain is wooded, rolling hills, bottom land meadows, and wetlands. The abundant wildlife includes white-tailed deer, raccoons, squirrels, foxes, and beavers. Resident birds such as Brown Thrasher, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Summer Tanagers and Black-and-white Warblers can be seen during spring and early summer. Other resident birds include Barred Owl and Red-shouldered Hawk. A large portion of the park is subject to flooding during wet periods, providing excellent habitat for waterfowl and other varieties of aquatic wildlife. The ample water availability favors a wide diversity of vegetation including woodlands comprised of post oak, hickory, elm, sweetgum, and pecan, with undergrowth of American beauty berry, dogwood, sassafras, yaupon, hawthorn, green briar, and Alabama supplejack. Savannah grasslands occur throughout the park made up of little bluestem, Indian grass, purpletop, switchgrass, and stands of the highly-endangered Centerville Brazos mint plant.
Phone: 903-344-1116, Fort Boggy SP