The 7,000-acre Neches River National Wildlife Refuge conserves some of the highest-quality bottomland hardwood forest in the country and offers an extraordinary outdoor experience for Texas families and visitors from out of state.
Texas Conservation Alliance, Friends of the Neches River, and Friends of the Neches River Refuge, have worked with the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to establish eight marked trails, ranging from a one-fourth mile to seven miles. Most of the 20 miles of trail feature the exceptional bottomland hardwood forest habitat the refuge was created to protect. One trail runs along the Neches River. A longer, more challenging trail climbs into the pine uplands. Wood duck nest boxes erected this winter and food plots planted last fall offer visitors opportunities for special wildlife viewing. On all the trails visitors will hear birds calling, catch a glimpse of hawks or herons, hear fish splash in a slough or the river, see wildflowers in season, and enjoy the beauty of native hardwood forests. The refuge for wildlife also provides a refuge for people with visitorship quadrupling over the past year as individuals and family groups searched for a place to connect to nature.
The Neches River National Wildlife Refuge is open each day from sunrise to sunset. It’s a good idea to check the Neches River NWR website, www.fws.gov/refuge/neches_river, before going, as the main road to the refuge can flood after heavy rains, resulting in temporary closure. The rules are simple: wear sensible shoes, take along snacks and plenty of water, don’t litter, keep your pets on a leash, and enjoy the wildlife without disturbing it.
USFWS is planning a fall hunting program for deer, waterfowl, feral hogs, and other wildlife. The hunt will be a draw hunt under the auspices of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and will include a youth hunt and an archery hunt. To apply to draw for the deer/hog hunts on the refuge, go to TPWD's webpage here.
TCA has long been involved in building support for creation and expansion of the refuge. We encourage school groups, scout troops, church groups, garden clubs, civic organizations, chambers of commerce, tourist bureaus, and outdoor recreation clubs to volunteer or to plan an outing at the refuge. You’ll find it fun, educational, and a great way to connect with nature.
The Importance of the Neches River Refuge
Millions of ducks, geese, hawks, and songbirds migrate up and down what’s known as the North American Central Flyway, moving from nesting grounds to wintering habitat and back. The Neches River flows through the heart of the Central Flyway, dubbed by author Richard Donovan as the “interstate highway” for migrating birds. The river’s bottomland forests provide a vital rest stop for ducks, geese, warblers, cranes, ibis, orioles, and numerous other kinds of birds to eat and rest. The refuge is also home to a vast array of plants and wildlife – towering oaks, hickory, and maple trees, deer, racoons, osprey, egrets, turtles, butterflies, mussels with colorful names like pigtoe and fawnsfoot, even mink, wood storks, and river otter.
Forested wetlands like those along the Neches are among the most biologically productive ecosystems in the world. Human activities such as farming, clearcutting, reservoir building, and chopping land into small tracts have converted more than 90% of Texas’ bottomland hardwood forests to other uses. Conserving the remaining bottomland forests along Texas’ rivers is a high priority for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).
The site of the Neches River National Wildlife Refuge was chosen because large tracts of land in the area contain very high quality habitat. The refuge was established in 2006 after TCA and Friends of the Neches River generated huge local support for its creation. Since then, the USFWS has acquired 7,000 acres for the refuge and is authorized to acquire as much as 25,000 acres over time, all from willing sellers.
While the primary purpose of the refuge is protecting forests, river, creeks, sloughs, prairies, and other wildlife habitats within its borders, it is also important as a stellar outdoor recreation destination. More than 20 miles of trails meander along the Neches River, back into the sloughs and wetlands, and uphill into the areas dominated by pine trees. Along the way, a refuge visitor may hear coyotes call, watch a great blue heron fly majestically across the path, or surprise a wood duck on the lake.
The stretch of the Neches River inside the Refuge is steeped in Texas history. Native Americans harvested the river bottoms’ rich bounty of meat, fish, nuts, berries, and mushrooms. Anglo American settlers fanned out up the river into the creeks and sloughs, carving out spots in the wilderness to hunt, fish, run cattle and hogs, and grow sugar cane. Early timber cutters shipped giant logs to far-away markets.
Today’s visitors can hike, picnic, watch birds and other wildlife, capture fabulous photographs, and learn about the exceptional plant-animal communities of the Neches River bottoms. Watch Texas Conservation Alliance’s website, tcatexas.org, for outing, events, and opportunities to volunteer at the Neches River National Wildlife Refuge.
Located in East Texas on US Hwy 79 between Palestine and Jacksonville, the Neches River Refuge has 7,000 acres of beautiful wildlife habitat – forests, wetlands, and trails along the iconic Neches River.
From Palestine, go 15 miles northeast on US Hwy 79. The refuge entrance (with sign) will be on the right just past the Neches River.
From Jacksonville, go 11 miles southwest on US Hwy 79. Watch for the refuge entrance sign on the left. If you reach the Neches River bridge, you just missed it.