The Austin Chronicle

http://www.austinchronicle.com/columns/2014-04-18/day-trips/

Day Trips

By Gerald E. McLeod, April 18, 2014, Columns

Neches River Adventures travels from downtown Beaumont into one of the most ecologically diverse forests on the planet.

The pontoon boat gently glides over the dark river, startling birds from the banks; the alligators ignore the intrusion. As the roar from the interstate highway bridge and the city fades away, only the singing of the birds fills the air. A mile or so upstream, the boat slips out of the main channel and into a slough lined with towering pines and cypress decorated in Spanish moss. Then you're in the Big Thicket.

The Big Thicket National Preserve is one of the most mysterious of all the national parks. Nine ecosystems collide in the southeast corner of Texas. What was once a thick, swampy forest has been reduced to 15 parcels of public land connected by corridors of bayous, creeks, and rivers. The more than 100,000 fragmented acres of the preserve extends into six counties between Beaumont and Woodville.

Neches River Adventures is an effort by the Big Thicket Association to introduce visitors to the beauty of the cypress-tupelo forest stretching north of Beaumont. The two-hour tours leave the dock in Riverfront Park on Saturday mornings, March through November. All trips are accompanied by a local guide, and some include an NPS ranger. Reservations are required by calling 409/651-5326. To find out how the association is working to save the Big Thicket, go to www.bigthicket.org.

1,185th in a series. Collect them all. Day Trips, Vol. 2, a book of "Day Trips," is available for $8.95, plus $3.05 for shipping, handling, and tax. Mail to: Day Trips, PO Box 33284, South Austin, TX 78704.

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