Also in this series: Thanks to Texas Paddling Trails, your adventure bucket list just got longer
“Yes, ma’am, we had a great time!” “It was wonderful!” “Wow, I can’t believe we have this right in our back yard.” “Are you gonna do this every year?” From Bella, a six-year-old paddling with her grandfather: “I’m ready to do that again!”
Big smiles, fun stories, and a tremendous enthusiasm for the beautiful Neches River were the order of the day for the Neches River FLOAT, sponsored by Texas Conservation Alliance, Friends of the Neches River, and the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce. More than 140 people from all over Texas, and some from out of state, paddled the Cherokee Neches State Paddling Trail on Sept. 16, proving just how important protected rivers and scenic natural areas are for Texas tourism.
The 6.6-mile stretch (“as the crow flies”) of the upper Neches River designated as the Cherokee Neches State Paddling Trail features quiet pools, small riffles, and plenty of wildlife. It’s good to check locally about water levels, as fast-moving high water can be dangerous after major rains. Manipulating one’s boat through the maze of downed trees can be a challenge. The reward is worth it – you’ll feel immersed in nature, paddling along in your quiet world with a great diversity of plant and animal life around you.
Birdwatchers look for kingfishers, great blue herons, songbirds, migratory waterfowl, and an occasional bald eagle. Towering oaks frame the banks and a watchful eye may spot deer, otters, beavers, squirrels, turtles, or even an alligator. Local outdoorspeople recommend floating and fishing for striped bass, spotted bass, catfish, sunfish, or the occasional gar or fresh water drum (buffalo).
Designating river segments as State Paddling Trails not only offers Texas families the opportunity for an exceptional outdoor outing, it also informs people of the importance of protecting Texas’ scenic natural rivers. Rivers in Texas are under threat from reservoirs proposed to meet the ever-growing demand for municipal water supply. Fortunately, there are cost-effective alternatives to building new reservoirs, among them water conservation, more efficient use of existing reservoirs, municipal water recycling, desalination of groundwater, and aquifer storage and recovery. When they’re done right, all of these measures protect our rivers by eliminating the need to build new reservoirs, which would destroy our rivers and riverside habitats.
Planning your paddling trip
Driving time: The Cherokee Neches Paddling Trail is within two hours’ drive of Dallas, Fort Worth, Waco, and College Station, three hours from Houston, and four from Austin.
Put-in location: Neches River Run Park, 2001 CR 3315, Jacksonville, Texas 75766, (DD) 31.94579, -95.44468
Take-out location: the Hwy 79 bridge over the Neches River between Palestine and Jacksonville
Paddling duration: At normal river levels, the run is 3 to 5 hours.
East Texas offers an abundance of paddling, hiking, and outdoor recreation opportunities. Check out EastTexasOutdoors.org to find your special place to visit!
Janice Bezanson, executive director of Texas Conservation Alliance (TCA), has 30 years experience protecting rivers, forests, and water resources. Her efforts have led to public protection of more than 100,000 acres.