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 Ave. for 2.1 miles to Jeter Dr. Turn right on Jeter Dr. and travel 0.8 mile. Turn left onto Baldridge Dr. and travel 0.2 mile 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 Kingbird and Scissor-tailed Flycatcher 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.
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 Pkwy. Turn left (south) onto Ennis Pkwy. and travel 0.4 mile to Joe Barton Pkwy., crossing over US 287. Turn left on Joe Barton Pkwy. and travel 0.2 mile to Bluebonnet Park; turn right into the park.
Bluebonnet 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 Shrike and Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, 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 afield. Walk the nature trail to see White-eyed Vireo and Downy Woodpecker along with Tufted Titmouse. Look for migrants in the trees during spring and fall, especially after a north wind and rain.
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 Dr. Turn right on Observation Dr. and travel 1.1 miles to Bardwell Dam Rd. Turn left on Bardwell Dam Rd. 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 Heron and Great Egret 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 Owl calling from deep within the trees. The large area of open grassland next to the dam is abuzz with Dickcissel in the spring and can hold numerous sparrows in the winter.
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 shorebirds, as well as diverse aquatic life.
The north unit of the management area has numerous natural and man-made wetlands. Birds such as Dickcissel, Painted Bunting, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, herons and egrets are often seen here. In spring and fall, migratory shorebirds are common. Look for waterfowl in the winter and Wood Stork in late summer. The north unit is the site of a cooperative wetland project between TPWD and Tarrant Regional Water District where 2,000 acres of shallow water impoundments have been constructed. Raw water from the Trinity River is 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 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. The large trees along the entry road host Northern Parula as well as Prothonotary Warbler. Check the wetland near the entrance for Snowy Egret and Little Blue Heron and the power lines for Red-tailed Hawk. A highlight of a visit to the WMA in early summer is the numerous butterflies found along the access roads. Hackberry Emperor is particularly numerous. Watch roadside fields of Indian blanket and black-eyed Susan for Palamedes Swallowtail. 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.
Gus Engeling Wildlife Management Area
From the intersection of US 287 West and SH 19 in Palestine, go west on US 287 for 16.2 miles.
The Gus Engeling WMA is an 11,000-acre property managed as a Research and Demonstration Area for the Post Oak Savannah Ecoregion of Texas. The area is comprised of bottomland hardwoods, natural watercourse, wetlands and 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.
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. 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 Warbler in bottomland forests and check the tops of the tallest trees for Northern Parulas singing their buzzy trill. Visitors may enjoy nature viewing, bird watching, photography, hiking, camping and the general beauty of nature.
A self-guided auto tour takes a visitor through 10 stops which address wildlife and habitat management techniques. In addition, the Dogwood Nature Trail loop offers visitors the chance to personally experience the lush green mysteries of East Texas. But be warned, all 4 varieties of venomous snakes occur in this area, so please watch your step. Daily on-site registration is required although no permit is required for the driving tour and nature trails. More extensive use of the area requires purchase of an Annual Public Hunting Permit or Limited Public Use Permit. These permits are available at all license sale locations in Texas or by calling (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.
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 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 7,000 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 2 hours from the Trinity River that dwindles to a canal ditch as it passes through Dallas and Fort 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, white-tailed deer and feral hogs. The ponds and swamps along the Trinity host large numbers of Anhinga, 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. The BigWoods was the winner of the 2015 Texas Leopold Award for premier conservation. Limited amounts of lodging available and tours by appointment only.
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 Rd. 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 Gull and American White Pelican 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 2,400-acre Fairfield Lake. While entering and leaving the park be sure to check the feeder at the entrance for Ruby-throated Hummingbird.
Confederate Reunion Grounds State Historic Site
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 mile to the entrance to the park on the left.
This wooded bend of the Navasota River is 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 Vireo and Brown Thrasher, and scan the riverside trees for perching Belted Kingfisher. 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.
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.
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 American White Pelican 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-Owl 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 operate boat tours of Lake Fort Parker on the weekends. Wildflower tours (on a trailer with bench seating) are available March_July, Monday_Friday by reservation.
Fort Boggy State Park
From I-45 in Centerville, Exit 164 and go east 0.4 mile 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 mile, 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, bottomland meadows and wetlands. The abundant wildlife includes white-tailed deer, raccoons, squirrels, foxes and beavers. Resident birds such as Brown Thrasher, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Summer Tanager and Black-and-white Warbler 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 beautyberry, dogwood, sassafras, yaupon, hawthorn, greenbrier and Alabama supple-jack. 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.