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Peace In The Piney Woods

Piney Woods
Woods Reader Magazine, Spring, 2019. Words and pictures by Fred Mays.

We’re a Prozac society. Our brains crave dopamine, instantaneous gratification, positive feedback, likes, follows. “I sent her a text a minute ago, why hasn’t she responded?” “Yes, Mr. Barista, another double latte please”! Give me Pandora pounding in my earbuds. The miracle of WiFi! I’m connected, plugged in.

Is that you? Are you wired 24/7? Wait! There’s hope for a better way.

Heart and mind shift gears in the woods. You develop a slower, natural rhythm with nature. It’s transcendental. You just can’t be in a bad mood when hiking in the wilderness…even in the rain. Even in booming, traffic-jammed Texas the woods can call you. You just have to look a little harder to find them.

Piney WoodsAs your boots lead you along the trails in the Piney Woods of East Texas, you are trekking through an endangered species. Where there were once three million acres of longleaf pine forests, today we have fewer than 45,000 acres.  The nature of the Piney Woods has changed.

Long Leaf PineTo be sure, there are plenty of trees left. The Texas A&M Forest Service says there is actually a “surplus” of timber. But now it’s comprised mostly of the smaller and softer southern and loblolly pine varieties and other scrub trees.  There are even small stands of hardwoods. This is rural country, running from southeast Texas all the way to Oklahoma and Arkansas. The pressures on the forest come from a relatively unregulated Texas timber industry and agriculture.

Piney WoodsThe heart of the Piney Woods is found in the four National Forests that account for nearly 700,000 acres of woodlands. Campgrounds and hiking trails are abundant.

It’s a great place to get lost, quite literally, from the frantic pace of everyday life.

It’s kinda nice walking the trails and seeing “No Service” on your cell phone. Hey, at least the camera still works. You are disconnected from the outside world, and connected back to nature and yourself.

There’s the soft rustle of the wind gently drifting through the trees, the sounds of pileated woodpeckers chipping away in the pines. Just you and nature. The perfect place to empty out your mind and reconnect with your soul. I hike and tent camp with my dog, and we’ve spent many a night around a campfire, enjoying our connection with the wilderness. Yes, even dogs can sense the peacefulness of the woods.

There are hiking trails and forest service roads everywhere in the Piney Woods. If you’re camping there are a number of campgrounds in the National Forest, especially at Boykin Springs in the Angelina National Forest, and Ratcliff Lake in the Crocket Forest. Some areas have hookups, some don’t. Check the National Forest website for details.

If you really want to get off the grid, head for the Big Slough Wilderness area in the Crockett forest. Nearly 4,000 acres of pristine hardwoods. No roads, no campgrounds, no timbering, no development of any kind. This is a true backpackers dream.  Pitch your tent off the trail, and make sure you pack out everything you packed in. Leave no trace.

The largest state park in the Piney Woods is Martin Dies, Jr. Park, west of Jaspar.  This is a terrific full-service state park, one of the best in Texas. There are wooded campgrounds with hookups and walk-in sites. Hiking, paddling, and mountain biking trails are all available.
Check the website for details. Wildlife is plentiful. Deer are not intimidated by humans and walk freely in the campgrounds. One caution, campsites around the lake can be buggy, especially in the summer.

piney woodsIf camping isn’t your thing, the closest town is Lufkin, where you can find hotels and restaurants.

Remember, East Texas is a big area. The Piney Woods is less a place and more a state of mind.  If you lose your mind you can always find it again, in the forests.

Piney Woods“The environment is where we all meet; where we all have a mutual interest; it is the one thing all of us share.”
-Lady Bird Johnson

Who needs an anti-depressant when you have this? Save yourself.  Go find some wilderness. The woods are calling.

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North Texas Active Life is your guide to resources in North Texas that will help you and your family lead active and healthy lives. We are focused on the Plano, Frisco, McKinney, Allen areas and surrounding communities. Our topics cover events, recreation, activities, fitness resources, and healthy living . Articles cover hiking, biking, trails, fitness, parks, kayaking, bicycling, rock climbing, walking, and more.