An organization formed 50 years ago to preserve one of the most biodiverse lands in the world -- the Big Thicket of southwest Texas -- is holding its first kayaking and canoeing event Saturday in Beaumont.
The executive director of the Big Thicket Association, Bruce Walker, says paddlers will go upstream on the lower Neches River to explore oxbow lakes during the Neches River Rally.
“When you get into Cooks Lake, you cross the Big Thicket National Preserve and travel through a cypress/tupelo slough,” Walker said, who is based in Saratoga, Texas. “That will be marked and we’ll have guides there. They’ll guide you through this really majestic forest of cypress and tupelo trees with moss hanging from the trees.”
The Neches River is the main thoroughfare of the Big Thicket National Preserve. Superintendent Doug Neighbor says the Big Thicket is sometimes referred to as the "biological crossroads of North America."
“It’s so diverse that you could be standing next to a prickly pear cactus, throw a rock, and hit a cypress tree,” Neighbor said.
Neighbor has built three canoes, and he enjoys navigating the meandering Neches.
“You don’t come across very many people,” Neighbor said. “Certainly on the river, you have the people fishing and the boats related to that. But you can just duck off 100 yards up a slough or to some small oxbow lake and you have it to yourself.”
The densely forested Big Thicket is 110,000 acres today. Walker says the original Big Thicket was more than one million acres. He says the goal of this event is to show people what a jewel they have in the lower Neches River, much like an event that is held on the upper Neches.
“This is patterned after the Neches River Rendezvous that they have in Angelina County. The folks up in Angelina County and Lufkin have really helped us out in planning this event,” Walker said.
Online registration for the first Neches River Rally ends Wednesday. Walker says advanced registration is required to participate in the paddle. The rally begins and ends at the Lower Neches Valley Association Saltwater Barrier boat launch in Beaumont. The new loop will be officially dedicated Saturday as a Texas paddling trail by Texas Parks and Wildlife.