Location: Kountze, Texas
Webpage: National Park
General Description: The Big Thicket is the name given to the region of southeast Texas that is a high biologically diverse area described as “American Ark” due to this biodiversity. The Big Thicket National Preserve was established by the National Park Service in 1974 to protect and preserve a very small part of the region. This complex mosaic of ecosystems include at least eight and up to eleven ecosystems depending on definitions. Much of this mosaic is due to the wide diversity of soils. During glacial periods the water locked up in ice would lower the sea level making this area well above sea level. During the warmer climate between glaciers the area would be underwater. Thus there are multiple layers of alluvial and eroded soils forming a complex of soils at the surface. This had led to the eight ecosystems recognized by the NPS: longleaf pine-bluestem uplands, arid oak-farkleberry sandylands, longleaf pine-black gum savanna wetlands, beach-magnolia-loblolly slope forest, beach-magnolia-loblolly slope forest, bay-gallberry holly bogs, palmetto-oak and hardwood flats, cypress slough, mixed-grass prairies, and roadsides and river edge. As a National Preserve, the NPS works in cooperation with Texas State Parks, US Forest Service, US National Wildlife Refuge, and private preserves to protect as much of the remaining Big Thicket region as possible. This includes Huntsville State Park, Lake Houston Wilderness Park, Martin Dies Jr State Park, Roy E Larsen Sandyland Sanctuary, Sam Houston National Forest, Trinity National Wildlife Refuge, and Village Creek State Park. In total this creates a wide variety of hiking trails and waterways that can be explored.
1) The Big Thicket National Preserve is itself a mosaic of land holdings in different ecosystems that make up the region. I would strongly recommend starting with the Visitor Center near Kountze, Texas where you can obtain maps of hiking trails within the National Preserve. There are a few exhibits that define the different ecosystems you can explore and are well worth the time to learn about before venturing out.
2) Since we only spent two days in the National Preserve, we explored only a few of the miles of trails. The Kirby Nature Trail is a series of loops that range from 1.5 to 2.5 miles in length. It passes through several plant communities from a slope pine forest to a cypress slough along the riparian zone along Village Creek. There is suppose to be an interpretive trail guide at the Visitor Center, however, we did not have a copy with us. Even though there are a few interpretive signs along the trail.
3) The Pitcher Plant Trail and Sundew Trails are short, 1 mile loops that pass through large bogs of pitcher plants, cypress, and water tupelo. They both include mixed woodlands as well as boardwalks over the bogs where you can see a large population of pitcher plants. Unfortunately, during the winter you have to look closely to see the remnants of the pitcher plants. Still both trails are easy walks through undisturbed forests of southeast Texas.