r: The Big Thicket Is Little More Than a Gullible State of Mind Truth, Sir, is a cow which will yield such people no more milk, and so they are gone to milk the bull. Dr. Samuel Johnson. We will concede freely that there ought to be more public parks in East Texas and that the federal government should establish more recreation centers in the 658,023 acres that it already owns in the form of four National Forests. But to take still another 100,000 or 200,000 acres and set up a National Park in the so-called Big Thicket would be ridiculous. In most respects, the Big Thicket is nothing but a gullible and nobody is sure exactly where it is. It is merely floating around loose somewhere north of Houston and Beaumont, it has no definite or acknowledged boundaries, and it differs chiefly from the rest of East Texas in being a little flatter, a little wetter, and possessed of more abundant crawfish. Those 658,023 acres available in the form of National Forests are already open to anybody who wants to go there and hunt, fish, camp, swim, watch birds, or gather mushrooms. But nowadays most people who venture out into the woods want their conveniences with them. They want electric lights, rest rooms, running water, concrete floors for their campsites, and so on. Mighty few will bust right out into the East Texas woods, bed down alone by the embers of a campfire, and .listen while the owls hoot. Accordingly, while there are about two million visitors a year in those National Forests, nearly all of them congregate in the established recreation centers, such as those along the shores of Sam Rayburn Reservoir. The real demand is for recreation centers. East Texas is a fine place for coon hunting or even for family barbecues. But for a National Park it will hardly do. To the trusting American tourist a National Park means a place where he can gaze on rugged scenery: Old Faithful Geyser, the Yosemite Falls, the Petrified Forest, Crater Lake, or the Grand Canyon. But there is not even a good-sized gulch in Hardin County, whose inhabitants sometimes describe it as the heart of the Big Thicket. Hardin County has 31,000 inhabitants, the number indicating that it has long since ceased to be a primeval wilderness. It also has numerous rice fields, oil wells, sawmills, dinky little real estate subdivisions, roadside hamburger stands, and one or two million bottles and beer cans, flung out by travelers as they went through, whether or not they were trying to find the Big Thicket. Nevertheless, the enthusiastic but ill-informed lovers of nature keep on writing stories for the Sunday papers about the Big Thicket. They picture it as a rugged wilderness, largely untouched by the hand of man and containing rare plants found nowhere else on earth. They also picture it as teeming with large, dangerous, but somehow lovable varmints, such as bears, catamounts, and alligators. For nothing gladdens the heart of a tourist like a chance to feed a ham sandwich to a bear. Unfortunately, to carry out this ceremony in Hardin County, the government will have to import the bears as iwell as the tourists. Let us offer a calm, factual analysis of the Big Thicket \(easily ] The Big Thicket contains no trees, bushes, or vines whatever that do not also grow elsewhere in East Texas or even a thousand or two thousand miles, away. Beech trees, for instance, grow in Nova Scotia. Carolina jessamine grows in Guatemala. There is only one biologist in North America who ever so much as attempted to explain how a man can tell when he is in the Thicket and when he is out of it. \(See Claud A. McLeod, The Big Thicket of East Texas, Its History, Location and Description, of hardwood trees, plus the loblolly pine, are slightly more abundant in the Thicket than in the rest of East Texas. But the Thicketeers paid small attention to McLeod. They kept on writing about those rare plants \(existent mostly in their The East Texas pine forest \(including the Big Thicket, if southwestern end of what is sometimes called the Southeastern Evergreen Forest. The other end lies along the Chesapeake Bay coast of Virginia. This forest, now largely cut over, includes parts of nine states. \(See, among other authors, Clarence J. Hylander, Wildlife Communities from the Tundra to the Tropics in North America, Of the fifty most characteristic trees of East Texas, all fifty grow in the Carolinas, twenty-eight grow on Long Island, and eleven grow as far north as Canada. East Texas is still heavily wooded. Its 37 counties contain 11.5 million acres of timber. \(See Herbert S. Sternitzke, East Texas Pineywoods, But all of this is cut-over timber anything from second growth to fourth growth. \(Not stated by Sternitzke, presumably Even so, the forest keeps on growing back. After sixty or seventy years, loblolly pines are about as big as the original timber. \(See McLeod, This, indeed, is the theory on which the more enlightened owners of timberland are now operating. They are not trying to cut the forest down flat; they are trying to keep it growing, so as to stay in business. To a considerable extent, they are succeeding. In terms of cubic feet, standing pine timber increased forty per cent between 1955 and 1965. \(See Sternitzke, What East Texas really needs is more woodland and recreation centers. Anything as pretentious as a National Park would be a fraud on the tourists. H. Mewhinney, Cleveland A. D. Folweiler, College Station E. R. Wagoner, Lufkin dzitdoekt P. 0. BOX 1032 LUFKIN, TEXAS 75901
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