The Neches River National Wildlife Refuge was established in 2010 and currently features 7,000 acres of wildlife in Cherokee County.
“What happens is the river produces for the land, and the land produces for the wildlife,” said Michael Banks, board member of the Friends of the Neches River National Wildlife Refuge and co-chairman on the Friends of the Neches River. “And so we have an excellent habitat here of bottomland hardwood forest that provides a habitat for the wildlife. Just about any wildlife that you could find in East Texas, you [could] be able to find on the 7,000 acres in the National Wildlife Refuge here.”
“I would encourage people to come out here to Neches River Refuge and, and just enjoy the outdoor experience that can be offered here in East Texas,” said Leo Gustafson, manager of the Neches River National Wildlife Refuge. “I think it’s important for people to come outside, enjoy the outdoors. They can come out here and get some sun. They can come out here and get fresh air. They can get back down to their natural roots and enjoy wildlife, enjoy the sounds of nature. It’s wonderful.”
So what is there to do on the refuge? Well…a lot!
“The main attraction [at the wildlife refuge] is the hiking,” said Banks. “We have 20 miles of hiking trails, and you never know what you’re going to see. It is a wonderland of wildlife.”
There are a variety of trails on the Neches River National Wildlife Refuge, and they’re many of them are different lengths so they’re great for all skill-levels and ages.
“So for some people that want to come out and hike a quarter of a mile, I’ve got a quarter mile trail in which they can hike,” said Gustafson. “For some people that are a little bit more adventurous, I have trails that are 12 miles long and they can hike 12 miles if they want.”
If you don’t know which trail is right for you, you can see the list below with information, including length, difficulty level and estimated time it will take to hike.
Dead Water Trail
Rocky Point Trail
Pine Tree Trail
Wood Duck Trail
“We have a state-designated paddling trail over here on the Neches River,” said Banks. “The Cherokee Neches Paddling Trail goes through part of the wildlife refuge.”
The trail puts in at FM 747 (River Run Park) and goes 6.6 miles down the Neches River and ends at Highway 79.
Here’s more info on getting to-and-from the trail, from the Texas Parks and Wildlife’s website:
“Everybody that loves the outdoors and needs to put this on their bucket list because there’s no telling what you’re going to see going down the river,” said Banks. “It’s just fantastic.”
“Good stewardship means that you manage the wildlife,” said Banks. “Part of a management program is having a hunt program to keep things in balance.”
So, can you expect hunting on the Neches River National Wildlife Refuge soon? Yes!
“There’s a process that we have to go through before we can open public hunting, and I’m going through that process right now,” said Gustafson. “In the hunt season of 2021-2022, so not this fall but next fall, [we’re planning] to have the refuge open for hunting.”
They’re currently collaborating with Texas Parks and Wildlife to open up hunting next year.
“It will be very similar to apply for a hunt on the refuge as you would apply for a hunt on Texas Parks and Wildlife lands,” said Gustafson. “So you’ll go to a website, you’ll pick the site that you want to pick, [in our case the] Neches River Refuge, you’ll send in your application for hunt permit, and then it’ll be a random draw.”
You can expect a youth hunt, archery hunting and firearm hunting.
“As far as the big game species are concerned, feral hogs and white tail deer will be the huntable species,” said Gustafson. “And then besides that, there’ll be some fur-bearing species and waterfowl hunting here on the refuge.”
Rules and Regulations:
The refuge was established for the protection of habitat along the Neches River, the local wildlife that visits that habitat and so that the public can enjoy the areas. But in order to keep the refuge open, there are specific rules and regulations you must adhere to when visiting.
Here are the rules listed on the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s website:
The Neches River National Wildlife Refuge is located on Highway 79 between Jacksonville and Palestine.
The refuge is open from sunrise to sunset 7 days a week.