About halfway between Jacksonville and Palestine on US Highway 79 is the only wildlife refuge within the East Texas Chapter Master Naturalist boundaries. The Neches River National Wildlife Refuge (NRNWR) was formally opened on 13 April 2019. The 7,000 acre site (with the potential of acquiring as much as 25,000 acres) boasts a prime bottomland hardwood forest that offers wintering habitat protection for migratory birds of the central Flyway, such as ducks, geese, cranes, ibis, and warblers among others. Most notable among the various waterfowl species is the wood duck. In fact, the NRNWR is an important nesting and rearing habitat for the wood duck.
In early January the Friends of the Neches River held a Wood Duck Nesting Box event. Two East Texas Chapter Master Naturalists (Amy Cumbie and myself) and two potential trainees in the 2021 class assisted in erecting a total of 15 nesting boxes along the banks of Dead Water Lake.
The NRNWR is striped with more than 25 miles of trails winding through sloughs, wetlands, and uphill into the piney woods. Each of the eight designated trails offers its own unique view of the refuge. My favorite is the River Trail. At 4.5 miles in length it winds past Dead Water Lake, along Buzzard Slough and Twin Lakes before skirting the Neches River. A stroll takes around 2-hours, but taking some photos, spotting a few of nature’s best, and just listening to the sounds of the forest may take a bit longer.