An estimated 200 people came out to Big Thicket Day on the Neches at Collier’s Ferry Park in Beaumont on Saturday.
The community came out to celebrate the founding of the Big Thicket Association and the anniversary of the establishment of the preserve in 1974.
“We had a great time,” Beaumont resident Julie Dornier, 40, said. “We kind of stumbled on it. It was a great surprise.”
Attendees like Dornier and her family had a chance to enjoy various experiences. Her daughter Julie Dornier, 5, beamed as the Rose City-based nonprofit organization, Stable-Spirit, taught her about petting and grooming with two of their horses: Josey and Bella.
“They told me how old they were, what his name was, and how to pet him,” Groves resident Gunner Jackson, 7, said after grooming a white mare named Josey.
Stable-Spirit, whose mission is to provide the community with opportunities to inspire positive mental, physical and emotional health through professionally guided interaction with horses, was just one of several educational and nonprofit vendors.
“Today has been great,” Stable-Spirit Executive Director Katie Durio said. “Being able to have the horses out here to let the people pet and brush them, so many people don’t have that opportunity to be up close to a horse and just to see the expressions on their faces, of how much they enjoy that— it is just so much fun.”
The Thicket of Diversity, Native Plant Society, The Beaumont Children’s Museum, the Texas A&M Forest Service, Texas Master Naturalists, and more were also there.
The conservation nonprofit was established in 1964. The day also included free boat rides aboard Ivory Bill on the Neches River, hawk demonstrations with Philip the Falconer, kayaking, kid’s art activities, food, and live music.
“It’s great for the family, very educational,” Nederland resident Joanna Martinez, 28, said.
Big Thicket Day also attracted the Golden Triangle’s visitors.
“I like the event. It was nice, and we’re from Houston so it was really nice,” Chasity Rashton, 27, who went kayaking on the Neches River with her three children.
Big Thicket Association Executive Director Wendy Jo Ledbetter said the main reasons why the group came together was to help promote the Big Thicket National Preserve.
“It has been a great experience for people to come out and learn more about nature and conservation, and why it is important to protect and preserve places,” Ledbetter said. “It has also been fun, fellowship and music.”
The attendees had a chance to hear from keynote guest speaker Matt Buckingham, who Ledbetter described as a great photographer, storyteller and naturalist.
“It was good to hear his message about his experience here in Big Thicket,” Ledbetter said. “It really makes everybody appreciate what we have here in Southeast Texas.”
Ledbetter said people learned that there is a lot of natural areas in this region, such as Village Creek Park, a national forest to the north, and the Big Thicket Natural Preserve.
The Big Thicket National Preserve has many different trails the public can walk on, kayak rentals and boat tours.
“There are opportunities for people to go out and really have some good outdoor times,” Ledbetter said. “And our boat tour, we provide our regular boat tours, in the year we do public tours and private charters and that takes folks back into a part of the swamp back in the national preserve that normally they might not get to if they didn’t have a boat.”
The association also hosts volunteer days, including inviting the public to plant trees. There will be a tree planting event through the Big Thicket National Preserve. Volunteers are needed. Additional planting days will be held on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and Presidents’ Day.
For more information, Ledbetter recommended checking out the preserves three social media pages and website bigthicket.org.
On Facebook, search for The Big Thicket Association, The Neches River Rally -which is an annual paddling and kayaking event held the first weekend after Labor Day, and The Neches River Adventures Program for Boat Tours.
Written by Meagan Ellsworth