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A Certain Treasure Beaumont We pulled over to the side of the road, under the shadow of the pine trees. Ahead of us a hawk circled through the calm afternoon. Beside us stood a billboard. “But, Lance, I thought this was supposed to be part of the Big Thicket Park.” Lance Rosier nodded sadly. “It was. Right in the middle of it.” “You mean the Department of the Interior decided it wasn’t good enough to be part of the park?” “Oh, it’s plenty good enough. It’s a beautiful woods. But they’re cutting it up for vacation homes, weekend places,” he grimaced. “The U.S. government won’t do anything about it.” The billboard \(ten feet high, twenty feet Holler Estates, and listed financial arrangements through which the urban tourist could participate in “life in a real wilderness.” I had hoped that the announcement of plans for a Big Thicket National Park would put an end to the needless bulldozing. So much for hope. “Drive on in,” Lance grinned. “Take some snapshots. Take all you want.” A quarter-mile from the entrance sign was an air-conditioned frame shack, decked out in fluttering orange plastic streamers. A sign on its roof stated, once . more, the attractions of life in a “real wilderness.” Behind the shack, roads had been cut, subdivision-style, through what biologists have specified as a uniquely rich botanical area. Massive brush-heaps, two to three times the height of the car, rotted beside the road. Gum trees, magnolias, yaupon trees were piled up like matchsticks. “The man who did this is from Livingston,” Lance offered. “He says he’s helping the Big Thicket by bringing in jobs and people here. A month ago a man from the Audubon Society came out here and begged them not to wreck this part of the woods. The man who owns this got on a bulldozer and knocked down some more trees, just to show us. He said it was his land, bought and paid for. He even let us take a picture of him next to the bulldozer.” “Did he smile?” “And there’s another thing,” Lance pointed. “Those signs all around here say No Hunting. And they hunt in here all the time.” Sure enough, a man carrying a shotgun walked across the road ahead of us. He disappeared into the brush on the other side of the road, passing under a No Hunting sign. Behind him the foundations of a new house rose incongruously. “If the law was halfway straight, they’d all be in jail,” Lance snapped. ANCE had grown up in the Big Thicket, exploring its sloughs and remote backwoods, collecting and classifying its plants and animals at a time when few realized the area’s unique value. The people of Saratoga classed him as a harmless sort of eccentric. \(“Why he don’t do nothin’ but prowl the woods around here,” one of politicians and conservationists had come to know the frail, self-educated naturalist, and his name had appeared in countless books and articles, the folks around Saratoga were nonplussed. How do you classify a man like Lance? Why do all those folks pay him so much attention? “There was nine units that was going to be in the park. This one you can see what they did to it. Cuts the middle right out of the Profile Unit. Cuts it right in two. And that’s the heart of the park.” Beginning in the rolling piney hills near the Alabama-Coushatta Indian Reservation, sloping southward towards sluggish Pine Island Bayou, the Profile Unit takes in every kind of topography and plant life in the Thicket. It is certainly the most inclusive, and to my mind, the most interesting, component of the proposed park. “They timbered the Beech Creek Unit. Soon as we set it aside for the park. And they want to cut the Loblolly Unit. You know, that’s the last big stand of virgin pine in Texas. Four hundred years old. Here: you want to take a picture?” He climbed onto a toppled tree trunk and stared glumly around. The Thicket was getting its publicity now. People were getting to know about it. But it was getting destroyed even faster than it was getting known. John Wayne was the way for us kids: Jesus never threw one grenade for tradition. When Vietnam happened, we sons of war sought nothing but our ‘promised share of Glory; WE SPENT an hour taking pictures, then headed back to Saratoga. On a table on Lance’s front porch lay a copy of the Pineywoods Press \(Promoting Recreational and Industrial Growth in East Headlines in the six-sheet tabloid enthusiastically proclaimed the opening of the Hoop ‘n’ Holler Estates. I said goodbye to Lance and headed back to the urban sprawl of Houston. Only later was there time and inclination to read the Piney woods Press. Towards the end of the article on the opening of the Estates was one lone passage which struck the imagination: This was a camping site of the early Spaniards. … They camped on the banks of Menard Creek and it was rumored that they buried treasure there near the creek which has been sought after for the last hundred years. … Botanists and people seeking nature in the raw, where semitropical plants grow, have long wanted to reserve some of this land for a park. There is a book on the Big Thicket which we hope to get several copies of and leave at the office. The book referred to is Dempsie Henley’s The Big Thicket Story, which condemns irresponsible land, oil, and lumber interests in the region. Henley’s book is, temporarily, out of print, but, just for the record, I am willing to lend my copy to the Hoop ‘n’ Holler Estates. I am even willing to add a detailed explanation of just what priceless treasure once existed along the banks of Menard Creek, and what has recently become of it. P.G. August 29, 1.969 oh god, what great movies we could have made if we had won: the Kiwanis stayed behind us all the way. SI DUNN Denton Tot RePtooect: ’74 &toad