Trail Between the Lakes Hike

Selfie of the Group

Longleaf Ridge began exploring the Trail Between the Lakes on a hike Sunday afternoon, February 23, 2020, led by Lisa Wise. We headed west off FM 2426, walking about an hour into the serene Sabine National Forest, following a small stream. The most noticeable flora was Red Buckeye, Aesculus pavia, which dotted the trail with buds ready to burst open. Some of the other flora observed is pictured and identified below. We scared a few Bobwhite quail that flew up in front of us, and passed several pines marked as Red-cockaded woodpecker nesting trees. Keith Stephens pointed out where an old railroad tram line used to pass through, and found old bottles in the spring. We hiked in about an hour, rested and hiked back. Hopefully, this is the first on many hikes on this 23 mile long trail between Sam Rayburn Reservoir and Toledo Bend right in our own backyard!


Adopt a Highway Cleanup!

Volunteer Cleanup Crew

Volunteers from Longleaf Ridge Master Naturalists joined the Jasper Master Gardeners on Saturday morning, February 8, cleaning up for the Adopt a Highway program on 2799. Big kudos to these folks who are helping us Keep Jasper Beautiful! They collected an awesome 35 bags of trash and debris in two hours! Watch for more cleanup events in the future and join them. This is a great way to earn service hours and make our community more beautiful at the same time.

First Sunday Big Thicket Hike

Big Thicket Hike

The Kirby Nature Trail’s outer loop in Hardin County was the site of the National Park Service’s Big Thicket First Sunday Hike for February 2020, and Longleaf Ridge members enjoyed the interpretive hike led by Ranger Alex Halbrook. The loop treks through three different ecosystems starting with gentle slopes graced by American Beech and Southern Magnolia, descending into a Baygall thicket populated with Swamp Titi, Water Tupelo and Bald Cypress, and finally emerging on the banks of Village Creek.

Ranger Alex kept the hike interesting and entertaining, having us stop to listen for frogs, speculating about how a wasp nest found its way to the forest floor, explaining the history and medicinal value of the Toothache tree, also known as Hercules Club, and sharing many small wonders that brought out the naturalist in us all and encouraged everyone to appreciate the “treasures and pleasures” of the Big Thicket that’s right in their own back yard.

We spent time on a metal bridge over Village Creek while Alex used the Harvey flood event to explain how, even though the water was 45 foot above normal – about 20 foot over our heads as we stood on the bridge – the forest recovered easily compared to places covered with concrete that leave nowhere for waters to go except city storm sewers.

Alex has been an intern at the Big Thicket for a couple of years leading hikes, teaching canoeing, and giving snake talks. He has now accepted a position with Mammoth Caves National Park in Kentucky, so he’ll only be with us a couple of more weeks. Think we can get a field trip together for Kentucky?

10,000 New Longleaf Pines in the Big Thicket

Volunteer Group

On January 20, 2020, we helped the National Park Service celebrate a decade of restoring the Big Thicket by replanting native longleaf pine seedlings in the Big Sandy Unit. Longleaf Ridge assisted with eight out of about one hundred volunteers. We were also joined by our friend Adrian Van Dellen.

The goal was to plant 10,000 seedlings by 3:30 and we were finished by about 12:30 pm! Then there was nothing left to do but eat the pizza they provided, pick up our celebratory T-shirts, and visit a while with friends from neighboring chapters, the National Park Service, the Big Thicket and the Sierra Club.

Awesome fun was had by all.


Field Trip to Canyon Rim

Longleaf Ridge Master Naturalists enjoyed the brisk weather on Sunday afternoon exploring the Canyon Rim Woodlands Trail in Newton County, so named because in places the trail is constructed around a canyon with up to 40 foot embankments graced by beech, southern magnolia and loblolly pines. We had a very good turnout. Vehicles crowded the small parking area, and the narrow path made for a long string of hikers.
Red Witchhazel

Red Witch-hazel

The winter date was chosen so we could see the rare Bigleaf Witch-Hazel, Hamamelis ovalis, which was soon spotted and admired. Its winter blooms come in shades of red, orange and pink. Soon the trail curved to follow an old logging road last used by mule and ox-drawn wagons about a century ago, and we were able to view a cannon range used by Fort Polk trainees during World War II. Above the spectacular views at Deer Run Lookout, we saw a turpentine face on a longleaf pine stump that was used by collectors of turpentine in the 1920s. 

Keith Stephens leads a hike

Keith Stephens Leads

Keith Stephens led the hike and was able to identify all of the trees with nothing but the bark in some cases, since many of these huge beauties were devoid of leaves this time of year. In addition to the huge beech, magnolia and loblolly pines, we saw large black cherry trees, black gum, sassafras, white oak, white ash, winter and summer huckleberry, American basswood, American hophornbeam, Ironwood, Georgia holly, Possumhaw, Carolina Buckthorn and Sweetleaf. Keith pointed out a White Oak stump that looked like a rock, explaining it wouldn’t rot because moisture couldn’t get inside.

The Last Hill

The Last Hill

The entire trail is about 1.6 miles, with some easy, moderate and more challenging terrain. There were fallen limbs across the path, and we discussed returning to do trail cleanup as a service project. In some places, feral hog activity made footing a challenge, and there were more than a few up and down grades to navigate. Canyon Rim is located on State Highway 87 in Mayflower, south of Hemphill, north of Burkeville. It is one of the sites on the Big Thicket Loop of the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail known for Black and White Warblers, Louisiana Waterthrush, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Yellow-throated Vireo, and Red-eyed Vireo. 

Eagle Count 2020

Bald Eagle

Three teams of 17 volunteers met at 7 am at the Sabine County Courthouse in Hemphill on January 11, 2020 to conduct the Annual Mid-Winter Bald Eagle Count at Toledo Bend. The temperature was a balmy 69 degrees Fahrenheit as we set out, but the line of thunderstorms that passed quickly through the area several hours earlier brought a front that dropped the temperatures to 49 before we concluded about mid-day. In all, the teams counted a total of 53 Bald Eagles and four nests. 

After the Bald Eagle began to recover from near extinction following a ban on the use of DDT, the National Wildlife Federation began sponsoring these counts nationwide to monitor their populations. Volunteers from the Longleaf Ridge chapter of Texas Master Naturalists have conducted this survey for the last several years along the entire western side of the Toledo Bend Reservoir and reported their findings.  

Since this monitoring project began, the conservation status of the Bald Eagle has changed from Endangered to Threatened, and then was finally removed from the Endangered Species List in 2007. They have recovered from the DDT threat, but now they face a new danger from mercury and heavy metals like lead. Eagles are now dying from lead poisoning after ingesting game carcasses containing lead shots or fish containing lead sinkers. This is a real threat in East Texas where hunting and fishing are so popular. Lead-free ammunition and sinkers are available, but there is a lack of education to promote them.

Footbridge Removal at MDJSP

Removing footbridges at MDJSP

A group of volunteers had an easier than expected time removing worn out footbridges at Martin Dies, Jr. State Park on January 8. Park staff brought in a tractor and Garry Lamoreaux brought his, too! The hardest work was attaching the large pieces to the tractors and the drivers backing them out of the winding trails.

Sharon and Linda Dig

Sharon and Linda Dig

There was a little bit of hand work that could be done, though. We managed to dig out some posts, rake where the tractors left little trenches from hauling, cut some shrubs out of the trail and carry pieces to piles. Everyone had a great time.

The footbridges were getting a little creaky and weak in places, so rather than going to the expense to replace them periodically in the future, small culverts will be installed in low places along the trails.

Green End Up!

Longleaf in Candle Stage

While lots of folks were putting Christmas trees up in their living room, volunteers from Longleaf Ridge were putting Longleaf pine seedlings in the ground at the Roy E. Larsen Sandyland Sanctuary between Kountze and Silsbee. This beautiful 5,654-acre habitat filled with native plants and wildlife, with Village Creek coursing along one side of it, is part of a comprehensive effort to protect and restore the longleaf pine ecosystem on the West Gulf Coastal Plain. Longleaf pine forests are among the most rapidly disappearing habitats in the southeastern United States. Some 90 million acres of longleaf pines once stretched from Virginia to Texas, but only about three million acres exist today. 

Receiving Instructions to PlantThe Nature Conservancy has protected this unique natural area of the Big Thicket since 1977 when Temple-Eastex Inc. donated the first large tract to them. Staffers, Shawn Benedict and Wendy Ledbetter talked to volunteers about the reforestation efforts, and gave them simple instructions on how to use a dibble to drive a hole in the ground, drop in the seedling, and pack the ground to get all of the air pockets out. The most important thing to remember, Shawn said, is “the green side goes up!”

We loaded up in every available space of their 4-wheel drive trucks and headed out to the site. First time planter, Richard Peters (our new Vice-President!), was dibbling and dropping in seedlings like a pro in just a few minutes. “This is easy!” he said. Lanny and Brenda Marshall teamed up together and worked at a rapid pace. 

Veteran planter, Keith Stephens, is an expert dibbler, but he didn’t care for the stooping required to drop the seedling in a the hole. “Oh, that’s painful!” Keith likes to joke, but he never misses one of these opportunities to help bring the longleaf back to its native habitat.

We were joined by other volunteers from the Golden Triangle Sierra Club, our sister chapter from the Sabine-Neches, and our friend, Adrian Van Dellen, President of the Black Bear Alliance.  Adrian will be the featured speaker at our March 10, 2020 meeting.

Many thanks to Lori Horne, who tirelessly and anonymously coordinates these events, and always shows up to work. We will see you at the next planting!


Longleaf Tree Planting

Historically, longleaf pine communities dominated the southern and central areas of Angelina National Forest on the hilly and droughty sandy soils. In the 1900s, excessive harvest of the overstory led to a decline in the longleaf pine present and increasing the loblolly pine representatives across the forestland. The goal of the Angelina and Sabine National Forests is to restore the longleaf pine ecosystem through loblolly pine plantation conversion to longleaf pine. When they asked for volunteers to help, Longleaf Ridge Texas Master Naturalists answered the call in force.

Ten of the thirteen volunteers who showed up to put longleaf seedlings in the ground on November 16 represented Longleaf Ridge. They were joined by Ellen Buchanan with the Golden Triangle Sierra Club, Adrian Van Dellen of the Texas Black Bear Alliance, and a conservation minded attorney all the way from Cut ‘N’ Shoot who showed up to help us out.

After proper instruction on utilizing the dibble, a metal bar to poke a hole which receives the seedling, we began working on a 64 acre tract in Angelina County that had been mechanically prepped last summer for the restoration efforts.  We teamed up, with one person stepping off the designated space, then plunging the hole, after which the partner dropped in the seedling and the ground around it was pressed snug.

Our new secretary, Brenda and her husband, Lanny Marshall won the cutest couple of the day award, holding hands from the moment of arrival throughout the process. Allegedly, this was just Lanny trying to keep Brenda from tripping in the rough terrain or getting tangled in the blackberry vines.

Other volunteers joining in the fun on this perfect weather day, were Claire and Doug Boutte, Phillip Hight, Sue Singletary, Fred Lyons, Lori Horne, Keith Stephens and Laura Clark.



Dam to Dam Pedal & Paddle

Launch at Bevilport

Seven volunteers helped launch and welcome at the finish line kayakers participating in the Dam to Dam Pedal & Paddle event sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce. Three entrants paddled from the Highway 63 bridge to Bevilport, and 23 paddled from Bevilport to the boat launch behind the Dining Hall at Martin Dies, Jr. State Park.

Brenda Marshall

One of those kayakers who made the 8 plus mile trip from Bevilport to Martin Dies, and who came in third place by the way — was our very own Brenda Marshall! Everyone cheered her victory.

A great time was had by all.