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June 5, 2009

When I’m walking under stars and floating down a river I am free* (*You can have all this…not so bad).

This past week was vacation for us.

We decided to take a three day/two night float trip in the Big Thicket National Wildlife Preserve.

We floated down the Village Creek, which is a small tributary to the Neches River.

The Village Creek tour runs 20 miles, though you can extend it up to around 30 miles.

Several outfits run canoe and kayak trips on the Neches and Village Creek. We chose Eastex Canoes, the longest running of the gear rental and shuttle services. You can arrange for day-trips or multi-day trips– the Neches trip is a 54 mile trip.

Southeast Texas has a very unique ecosystem.

The Gulf coast brings the influence of tropical wetlands up into the southwest desert, while mid-western grasses converge with eastern forests.

As a result, Big Thicket is one of the most biologically diverse regions in North America.

However, this impressive area is only a shadow of its former self.

In the 1930’s, it was estimated that the Big Thicket comprised over one million acres of land.

But during that time it was also being heavily deforested for timber.

The wet, sandy soil offered a rich habitat for the eastern hardwood trees that had migrated south:

oak, ash, beech, and maple.

Loggers proceeded to reap the benefits. When they had exhausted most of the accessible old-growth forests,

conservationists stepped in and petitioned congress to designate over 350,000 acres of land a National Park.

In 1941, they succeeded in passing a bill through the House of Representatives,

but before it reached a vote in the Senate, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.

By the time World War II had finished, some industrious individuals had discovered a way to convert chippings from softwoods, like pine, into paper.

As a result, the old loggers found a new market for their land, and paper mills started to pop up all over the area north of Beaumont, Texas.

As you can imagine, the loggers became much less compliant with the idea of protecting their now profitable land.

As a result, the efforts of conservationists to preserve the unique area lost momentum, and the logging continued.

It wasn’t until 1974 that Gerald Ford was able to designate Big Thicket (along with the Big Cypress National Preserve in Florida) the first of the wildlife preserves in the National Park System.

Though the land surrounding Village Creek is not technically part of the preserve, it is protected land in the middle of the Big Thicket area, a part of rural East Texas, just a couple of hours outside of Houston.

Nowadays, Big Thicket is a remarkably primitive tract of land for its accessibility.

It’s amazing what you can find so close to home.

Finding treasures like this only requires you to slow down a bit,

take it easy,

ride with the current.

And even stop, when the water pools up onto the beach.

We love to travel as a family.

A trip is like a microcosm of life.

Being on a river, in a canoe, with provisions for a couple of nights in the wilderness forces you to concentrate on the essentials.

And when all the essentials are cared for,

you can just sit back and observe,

or play.

We as human beings need some things,

like family,

adventure,

work,

as well as time to be free*

We need places like the Big Thicket,

so we can forget about all of our manufactured needs,

in order to remember what we really need.

*lveo. Peace.

~The Smiths

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