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Big Thicket National Preserve
IUCN Category V (Protected Landscape/Seascape)
Location Southeast Texas, USA
Nearest city Beaumont, Texas
Coordinates 30°32′48″N 94°20′25″W / 30.54667°N 94.34028°W / 30.54667; -94.34028Coordinates: 30°32′48″N 94°20′25″W / 30.54667°N 94.34028°W / 30.54667; -94.34028
Area 97,830 acres (395.9 km2)
Established October 11, 1974
Visitors 95,285 (in 2007)
Governing body National Park Service

The Big Thicket is the name of a heavily forested area in Southeast Texas. While no exact boundaries exist, the area occupies much of Hardin County, Liberty, Tyler, San Jacinto, and Polk Counties and is roughly bounded by the San Jacinto River, Neches River, and Pine Island Bayou. To the north, it blends into the larger Piney Woods terrestrial ecoregion of which it is a part.

The Big Thicket has been described as one of the most biodiverse areas in the world. The Big Thicket National Preserve was established in 1974 in an attempt to protect the many plant and animal species within. Big Thicket National Preserve, along with Big Cypress National Preserve in Florida, became the first national preserves in the United States National Park System when both were authorized by the United States Congress on 11 October 1974. Big Thicket was also designated as a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 1981. The preserve consists of nine separate land units as well as six water corridors. Centered about Hardin County, the BTNP extends into parts of surrounding Jasper, Jefferson, Liberty, Orange, Polk, and Tyler counties.

Contents

Geography

"One's fondness for the area is hard to explain. It has no commanding peak or awesome gorge, no topographical feature of distinction. Its appeal is more subtle." - Big Thicket Legacy, University of Texas Press, 1977.

The terrain in the Big Thicket is unremarkable and offers none of the impressive views that can be found in many other National Parks and Preserves. The area lies on the flat coastal plain of Texas, and is crossed by numerous small streams.

The Big Thicket's geographical features are believed to have their origins with the Western Interior Seaway, an inland sea that covered much of North America during the Cretaceous period. Over time, water smoothed out the land along what is now Texas's coastline.

Small towns are contained within the Big Thicket. Most of these towns developed in the late 19th century in support of the lumber industry, as evidenced by names like Lumberton. As transportation through the area improved (including the construction of US 59, US 69 and 96), many of the towns slowly became suburbs of the much larger cities of Houston and Beaumont to their south.

Biology

A swamp area of the Big Thicket

What the Big Thicket lacks in geography is made up for by the biodiversity contained within. During the most recent ice age, plant and animal species from many different biomes moved into the area. Before their extinction, the Big Thicket was home to most species of North American megafauna.

Today the Big Thicket retains numerous species, and has been described as the "biological crossroads of North America" or the "American Ark". The area contains over 100 species of trees and shrubs, but is dominated by Longleaf Pine, which reaches heights of over 30 metres (98 ft). The National Park Service lists more than five thousand species of flowering plants and ferns that can also be found in the thicket, including 20 orchids and four types of carnivorous plants.

Animal life includes 300 species of migratory and nesting birds, many endangered or threatened. The thicket is also home to numerous reptile species, including all four groups of North American venomous snakes and alligators.

Ghost Road

A dirt road leading north out of the town of Saratoga is the core of the area's predominant ghost story. Bragg Road, as it is more formally known, was constructed in 1934 on the bed of a former railroad line that had serviced the lumber industry.

In the 1940s, stories began to circulate about a mysterious light, sometimes referred to as the Light of Saratoga, that could be seen on and near the road at night. No adequate explanation of the light has been offered. The various ghost stories include reference to the Kaiser Burnout, long-dead conquistadors looking for their buried treasure, a decapitated railroad worker, and a lost night hunter eternally searching for a way out.

Less paranormal explanations include swamp gas, and automobile headlights filtering through the trees.

External links

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