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Gus Engeling Wildlife Management Area

Quiet ponds and wetlands await in East Texas.

By Marian Edwards

Tucked away in the woods of East Texas, just north of Palestine, far from strip malls and sirens, lies a hidden jewel. It was a damp February day when I visited the Gus Engeling Wildlife Management Area, and walking along the roads and trails brought back memories of childhood walks with my family through the forests of Germany and the Pacific Northwest. I heard only bird calls and an armadillo scurrying away through the brush. Visitors will find more than 10,000 acres of quiet, natural habitat to enjoy a variety of wildlife and plants.

Stop at the check-in station at the entrance to register and pick up the various informational field guides available, including “Wildlife Management — Past, Present and Future.” This booklet provides an introduction to wildlife management and a self-guided auto tour for visitors along with a site map. Numbered signs posted along main roads correspond to descriptions of each demonstration site in the booklet.

The Beaver Pond Nature Trail is a must for visitors. Register at the site to record your visit and pick up a copy of the viewing guide. The well-marked path at Beaver Pond takes you over the wooden boardwalk for a closer look at the wetlands created by industrious beavers, but plan to spend some quiet time in the wildlife viewing stand before beginning your walk. It’s a prime spot to spy the birds and animals — such as nutria, beavers, alligators and wood ducks — that make their homes in the pond. Children especially enjoy the walk over the pond, but remember to take sunscreen, insect repellant and water. Once past the pond, the trail winds into the woods, with more numbered markers along the way. Although many of the site’s most spectacular flora is in boggy areas that are inaccessible, keep an eye out for yellow lotus and swamp thistle. The WMA is the only recorded site of the swamp thistle (Cirsium muticum) in Texas.

Fall brings color changes to the foliage of the dogwood, gum, sassafras, hickory and red oak trees. When the weather is right, the splashes of red, gold and yellow are spectacular. The Dogwood Nature Trail is a brightly colored treat in the fall, but the third week of March is also noteworthy, heralding the arrival of the dogwoods’ blooming season. Wherever you walk, watch your step! The WMA is home to the four varieties of venomous snakes that occur in this area.

For those who plan to camp, the WMA offers only primitive camping. A large, pleasant glen surrounded by tall oaks and bordered by Catfish Creek is a great setting for individual campers. Organized group camping is available in eight screened shelters, with prior reservations. Visitors at the WMA who plan to hunt squirrel, waterfowl or feral hogs are required to obtain the Annual Public Hunting Permit ($48) and hunt on designated days only. Those who are planning to camp or fish must have the Limited Use Permit ($12). Casual day users are not required to have a permit to walk the designated nature trails or take the demonstration driving tour.

For more information, call (903) 928-2251 or visit <Gus Engeling Wildlife Management Area>.

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