Big Thicket Reporter - #69
Funds For Addition Act Pending
The Bush Administration budget includes $4.5 million in FY 2005 for acquiring land authorized by the 1993 Addition Act. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison and Congressman Jim Turner will have to maintain vigilance to make sure that it STAYS there when Appropriation Committees start deliberating. Acquisition has been complicated and delayed by the enabling legislation [PL 103-46] that provided for exchange of timber company land for USFS land, predictably unworkable. Further delays resulted from recent divestitures of timber company land in 2002-03. Some Addition Act lands are now owned by Barrs Glawson Investments (Macon, GA), Molpus Timberlands Management, LLC, and other investors.
NPCA’s designation of Big Thicket National Preserve by NPCA as one of America’s Ten Most Endangered Parks undoubtedly focuses attention on Big Thicket that helps Hutchison and Turner in their support of Congressional appropriations.
Preserve Permanent Exhibits Open
The Big Thicket National Preserve opened its permanent exhibits to the public Saturday, March 20 from 10:00- 2:00. Cong. Jim Turner was the speaker, and the Muddy Angelina folks supplied the music.
Congressman Jim Turner
Visitors walk between cypress trees to explore a realistic series of diverse ecosystems using dioramas and life-size plants and animals. Cultural history — Indian, timber and oil industry artifacts— intermingle with the flora and fauna. Deciduous tree construction involves welded steel covered with epoxy or fiberglass “bark”; some are cast in fiberglass reproducing exact detail. Flowers are mostly plastics cast in vacuum-formed co-polyester with parts of the plant sometimes cast in acetate, latex, epoxy, polyester, urethane or other materials.
Fred Allen and Ann Roberts enjoy the new exhibits.
These spectacular exhibits were prepared by Chase Studio, designers and builders of natural history and environmental science exhibits. The company is located on Bull Shoals Lake in Southern Missouri. Bob Valen, former Preserve Chief of Resources Education worked with Chase in planning the exhibit, and present Resource Education Chief Leslie DuBey followed Fred Allen and Ann Roberts admire new exhibits at BTNP Visitor Center Issue #65, September/October 2003 Issue #68, March/April 2004 through monitoring the development and installation of exhibits. A barbecue lunch followed thanks to Commissioner Ken and Vickie Pelt, Mr. & Mrs. Ronnie Stockholm, and the Kountze Chamber of Commerce.
BTA Conservation Committee members met January 19 with some blue-ribbon folks at Temple-Inland in Diboll — Stan Cook and Robert Wilson. The group reviewed BTA efforts to acquire land to buffer a fragmented, vulnerable Preserve.
T-I’s Conservation Foresters work with NPS-BTNP to identify common interests and potential and continuing cooperation.
On February 12, the Conservation Committee met with Ken Sewell, Managing Director, Southeast Texas for Molpus Timberlands Management, LLC to discuss the future of the Living Legacy Lands established by Louisiana- Pacific and now owned by Molpus. The meeting was pleasant and productive.
ST. MICHAEL’S VOLUNTEERS M.O.V.E. IN
For the fifth year, students from St. Michael’s College in Colchester VT came to Big Thicket for their spring break. It’s part of the College’s Mobilization of Volunteer Efforts (M.O.V.E.). The students stay at the Field Research Station, and BTA provides the first day orientation. Typically, work projects involve two or three days work for the Big Thicket National Preserve on projects like planting trailing phlox, removing exotics, maintaining trails, etc. The students spend one day at Marysee Prairie [a NAPA preserve in Liberty County] where this year they participated in a prescribed burn. Another day is spent at Watson Longleaf Pinelands Preserve in Tyler County near Warren. Some evenings they spent watching Big Thicket videos that increased the students’ knowledge of the area and its resources. Supt. Art Hutchinson and Doug Hutter, Resource Management special-ist, each dropped in for evening visits.
One night the students hunted ghosts on Ghost Road—without much success—but about midway on the eight-mile stretch we met some delightful ghost watchers (one from Oregon who had read the recent stories in the Enterprise).
This year’s crew includes Matt Hajdun, Patrick K. Asaba, Anna Young, Meghan Donoghue, Emma Kosciak, Andriy Dmitriyev, Dustin Bruley, Robyn Bratica, and Jessica Ritz. The staff person accompanying the group is Chad Ahern.
GHOST ROAD GRANT
Texas Parks and Wildlife recently awarded a $4,400 Heritage Tourism Partnership Grant to BTA, Kountze Chamber of Commerce and Kountze Business and Professional Women. The partners propose to interpret and March/April 2004 to promote use of Ghost Road County Park Scenic Drive by installing message boards at turnouts that highlight the history, folklore, and ecology of the Road. The Hardin County Historical Commission will apply for a Ghost Road historical marker.
Jamie Reid, Beaumont Enterprise, did a front page story on Ghost Road, and a follow-up story from a Woodville lady who says the decapitated railroad man was her great uncle. You can read the articles in news archives at http:// www.southeasttexaslive.com. Article ID: 0403070003 and 0403150003.
Acreage near Ghost Road Being Auctioned
Dempsey Auction of Rome, Georgia, and Executive Realty of Lufkin have scheduled an auction of approximately 904 acres in the area of Ghost Road (a.k.a., Bragg Road) according to signs posted in the Saratoga area as well as a web site www.dempseyauction.com. The auction will be held Friday, April 2 at 10:00 AM at the intersection of Bragg Road with FM 787.
Ghost Road has been well chronicled in print and in the media and is a fixture in Hardin County history and folklore. The Road attracts numerous visitors, and in 1997 the Hardin County Commissioners Court formally took action to establish a Ghost Road Scenic Drive County Park.
Recently, the Big Thicket Association with Kountze Chamber of Commerce and Kountze Business and Professional Women as partners secured a Texas Historical Commission Heritage Tourism Partnership grant to interpret the road. Another grant request is pending. The Hardin County Historical Commission is applying for a historical marker. Plans include installation of three message boards focusing on history, folklore and ecology. A proposed fourth site would place the historical marker and offer a short boardwalk hike. The partners anticipate the modest plans would attract more visitors and provide benefits for the local economy.
In recent years, both the Big Thicket Association and the Big Thicket Natural Heritage Trust appealed to former timber landowners along the road to provide a buffer of several hundred feet parallel to the Road and to limit harvests to selective cutting, thus enhancing the quality of visitor experience. Although the companies did not respond to appeals, apparently, some of the landowners have provided such buffers.
Now, 904 acres in the vicinity of Ghost Road are being auctioned in several smaller sized tracts (see Page 5). Lacking funds to purchase the land, and absent conservation buyers, the Big Thicket Association hopes the properties will be purchased by timber companies who will continue to manage for timber production and who will consider conservation easements along the Road. BTA President Ellen Buchanan said, “the Association asks the public to join us in appealing to new landowners to avoid development that would sacrifice a cultural and ecological treasure.”
PARK FUNDING Fiscal Year 2005
(From NPCA Parklines)
“… The President’s fiscal year 2005 budget request includes $2.4 billion for the NPS. The primary components of this include $1.68 billion for park operations (a $76.5-million increase), $84.3 million for land acquisition (a $37-million increase), and $329.9 million for construction …
“To try to put these large numbers in perspective, the $2.4 billion … is 0.1 percent if the entire federal budget. This means out of every $10 spent by the government, one penny goes to parks.”
NPS Director at Hearings -- the flip side
[Data from CNN.com and the Washington Post, March 26]
On March 25, a House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee asked NPS Director Fran Mainella to explain high travel costs and huge construction projects. Mainella told lawmakers, “I hear you loud and clear.” She pledged to suspend all foreign travel and to impose a 10 percent reduction in domestic travel. The General Accounting Office recently reviewed expenditures—$50 million in 2002 and $44 million in 2003 for travel.
Mainella pledged to review all construction projects that cost more than $5 million, and she will try to determine why NPS did not hold required consultations with Congress before the construction projects began. Some of the projects involve costsharing with outside groups. One such project involved a $100 million visitor center at Valley Forge National Historical Park that will cost the federal government more than $75 million. The President of the National Center for the American Revolution says the project is a museum, not a visitor center. [So?]
Rep. Jim Kolbe, (R-AZ) said, “Either you are not asking for enough money, or you’re not managing well.” [Maybe both?]
A CNN report focused on an internal memo suggesting cutbacks by opening parks fewer hours, closing on federal holidays, and scaling back ranger tours. The memo suggested that cutbacks be referred to as “service level adjustments.”
Meanwhile, back in the Thicket, the shortfall for total budget in FY2004 is $100,000. How is an over-stressed, understaffed park supposed to cope?
After some coping and planning, Hutchinson says, “we are about $60,000 below what would cover our anticipated program needs at the end of the year… We will simply not purchase some items and will not rent as many vehicles and travel less. Obviously, we will not be filling many permanent positions until times improve. This is a hard budget year for all in the government.”
THANKS, Cong. Jim Turner
Texas conservationists owe Congressman Jim Turner a debt of gratitude. Words are inadequate to express how much we appreciate his support for the Big Thicket. Through his work, the Visitor Center became a reality (85 percent federal funds; 15 percent local). With the help of former Rep. Zeb Zbranek, he initiated designation of US 69 as the Big Thicket National Preserve Parkway. Because of his steadfast support (and that of Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison), BTNP finally received appropriations to begin acquiring acreage authorized in the 1993 Addition Act.
Now Turner is moving forward with plans to introduce legislation to enable acquisition of land from willing sellers— former timber company properties. That legislation is critically needed to address problems of fragmentation, urban sprawl, and other threats that placed Big Thicket on NPCA’s 2003 AND 2004 lists of America’s Ten Most Endangered Parks.
Although Turner is not running for reelection, we know Big Thicket will always have a much-valued friend. Indeed, we will say … “Thanks, Jim!” many times during the coming year.
Welcome, new members from NPCA
As a result of our membership drive targeting NPCA folks, close to 100 new members have joined BTA. We’d like to say “thanks” for your support, and welcome to BTA!
HAIL TO BAX AT 80!
On February 28, 2004, hundreds of friends rallied at the Holiday Inn Atrium Plaza to celebrate Gordon Baxter’s 80th birthday and to recall the epic career of an old friend. Hundreds of folks turned out for the event organized by son Jim Baxter. Former rival Al Caldwell emceed, and tributes were offered by Dick Koenig (Flying magazine), Greg Harbaugh, Mike Trahan, Jack Rains, Linda Chesnutt Minick, and Jimmy Robertson.
Bax hand-raised a legion of listeners during his tenure at most of the radio stations past and present. He also wrote several books (one on Village Creek) as well as a lot of columns for newspapers and Flying Magazine. Sometimes he outraged us, but mostly he entertained us. Either way — he’s a local legend!
CYCLISTS WANT BIKING TRAIL ALONG US 69
Source: Beaumont Enterprise, Feb 23, 2004 A proposal by BTNP officials supported by Hardin County officials would establish a bicycle lane from Kountze to Woodville along US 69. A Southeast Texas Hike and Bike Coalition is forming to support such bicycle trails and for “rails to trails” conversions.
“Todd Fogal rode for 16 miles around Beaumont city streets … but didn’t feel like he got a good workout. The 35-year old Beaumont computer technician is in training for a long-distance bike ride between Houston and Austin and will soon increase his distances to a couple of hundred miles a week.”
Fogal says the proposed trail along US 69 could also be used for jogging and rollerblading.
HISTORIC TREE PLANTED
The Hardin County Historical Commission has scheduled an event for March 30 at 10:00 AM on the Hardin County Courthouse square. A tree grown from an acorn in Stephen F. Austin’s yard and authenticated by the Texas Forestry Association will be planted. Sam Houston IV will present the program.
School districts in the County will bring Texas History classes to the event to help “plant” the tree. Patriotic medleys will be presented by the Kountze High School band and the Silsbee High School choir.
HARCOMBE SPEAKS AT LAMAR CENTER FOR BIG THICKET STUDIES
Dr. Paul Harcombe, Professor of Biology, Rice University, was the speaker for the second lecture in a series sponsored by the Lamar University Center for Big Thicket Studies. The event was held March 18, 2:00 PM in the Spindletop Room, Mary and John Gray Library. Dr. Harcombe’s topic was “What Makes the Big Thicket Special?” The power point presentation was both instructive and interesting. With a grant from NPS-DOI, the Center is digitizing some Larry Jene Fisher Collection negatives from the Library’s Special Collections.
TRINITY RIVER N.W.R. AT 10 YEARS
To celebrate the 10th anniversary of Trinity River National Wildlife Refuge, the Friends group will open a photographic exhibit by Karen Hollingsworth, who will also give a multi-media presentation. Put it on your calendar for Saturday, April 3, 5-7 PM, the Geraldine Humphreys Cultural Center in Liberty.
April 23rd-25th 2004
Birding in the Big Thicket, a birding celebration, will be held at Kountze Middle School the last weekend in April. Workshops will cover such topics as Beginning Birding, Hummingbirds, Bluebirds, Birding on the Net, Photography and other topics. Tours will be offered to surrounding areas including High Island, Anahuac National Refuge, Sea Rim State Park, and Sabine Woods.
There will be an owling trip to Village Creek State Park Saturday night. Also on Saturday children’s workshops will be offered for handson projects for informational sessions on the use of field guides and binoculars, birding on the net and photography.
Workshop Sessions will be Friday from 4:30 to 8:00 and all day Saturday with tours on Friday and Sunday. Individual workshops are $2.00 each or an all-speaker program pass is $15.00. Tickets for tours are various prices. More information: call 1-866- 4Kountz (1-866-456-8689) or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Or contact the Kountze Chamber of Commerce (www.kountzecoc.org).
TEMPLE-INLAND PUBLIC TOUR OF DISTINCTIVE SITES
Robert Wilson, Temple Inland conservation forester, will lead a public tour on Saturday May 1 of T-I Distinctive Sites — Little Rocky area, Money Hole, and Paradise. Participants will meet at Brookshire Brothers in Jasper and will leave the parking lot at 9:00 AM.
T-I protects numerous “distinctive sites.” Among them are Arkansas Oak, Beef Creek Falls, Eleven-Log Pine, Fuller’s Earth Pit, Hamilton Swamp, Money Hole, Naconiche Bog, Paradise, Reindeer Moss, Silky Camellia Colony and Wild Azalea Canyon.
By Ann Roberts
[a.k.a. Big Thicket Butterfly]
Mike George, interim Chief of Resources Management, ended his assignment in Big Thicket when the position was filled recently by Curtis Hoagland who comes to Big Thicket from USF&W.
Upon hearing the news, we said, “he’s an Aggie, of course!” Not this time. Former Aggie Chiefs include Carl “Mike” Fleming, Rick Strahan and Doug Neighbor.
Former superintendent Richard “Pete” Peterson and wife Elaine (now residing in Frankfort, MI) were in town briefly to sell their house. If you are reading this Pete, we forgive you for not checking in THIS TIME ONLY.
Supt. Art Hutchinson spent several days in DC recently. He reports that a Resource Management Team of advisors from Denver will be coming to the Big Thicket for field studies in the near future.
Recent Field Research Station visitors include on March 10, 16 participants reviewing the final draft of a Bear Reintroduction project to be presented to Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission for approval. The following day, March 11, TP&W law enforcement personnel convened to discuss management of alligators. Both sessions were chaired by Nathan Garner.
Individual researchers visiting the FRS include Jill Anderson (Cornell), Benjamin Poole (TAMU), and Dr. Jane Packard (TAMU). Lance McBrayer and his herpetology class (SFASU) will check in April 2-4.