Living in rural Texas means being close to nature all the time, but the Trinity Valley Electric Cooperative service territory has some attractions to offer beyond deer in the backyard or fishing the neighbor’s pond.
Lake Tawakoni State Park north of Wills Point and Purtis Creek State Park, near Eustace, have all the amenities you might expect. Camping, hiking and fishing opportunities are great, and the expertise of the park rangers can make even a short day trip an educational opportunity.
Fishing from shore in state parks does not require a fishing license, and you can find loaner equipment in the park offices.
John Bunker Sands Wetlands Center
Completed in 2009, the John Bunker Sands Wetlands Center is part of the largest manmade wetlands in the country. Its true purpose is to act as a natural filter, cleaning the water through organic processes before it is pumped to Lake Lavon for use by the North Texas Municipal Water District.
The center, located in the middle of the wetlands, offers access to a great variety of wildlife and plants.
“We have become a mecca for teachers in the region,” said JBS Wetlands Center Director John DeFillipo. “The programs we use are certified and allow educators to get continuing education credits. It is also great for parents and home-school educators who want to connect their kids to nature.”
The center also offers Family Fun Days during the summer, with the opportunity for kids to learn basic survival skills, study weather, and various animal and plant topics.
“We teach a lot in two hours, and this includes a lesson, a craft and snacks for only $6,” DeFillipo said. “And of course the wetlands board walk, our nature trails and the trail to the bald eagles’ nest is popular. This is one of the top bird-watching destinations in North Texas with more than 270 species.”
Guided bird-watching tours and nature walks are also on the schedule, or you can take a picnic basket and just enjoy the scenery.
The Center’s facility and boardwalk is handicap accessible, opening the outdoors to everyone.
Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center
Part aquarium, part nature center and part fishing hole, the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center near Athens covers a lot of water.
“The nice thing is, for families on a budget, a typical family of four can spend the day for about $20, and that includes the tram tour, the dive show, fishing and all of the exhibits,” said Wayne Heaton, TFFC curator. “In having all that fun, there is an educational component that gets squeezed in to tell you about what the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is, how we stock lakes and how your tax money is at work.”
Summer activities include a July 4 fireworks display with free admission after 5 p.m.
Fishing tackle is provided with admission. Inside the center, you can see mounts of record-setting bass and catfish as well as a collection of antique fishing gear.
Gus Engeling Wildlife Management Area
If you want to experience more of nature in its wildest state, the Gus Engeling Wildlife Management Area may be the spot for you.
While it may lack the creature comforts of a state park, the WMA offers an untarnished and untamed look at the wildlife of East Texas.
Named for a pioneering biologist and game warden who was killed by poachers in 1951, the area is maintained by the TPWD for university research and public use.
A self-guided driving tour provides an overview of the WMA and its various habitats, and hiking trails allow an even closer look.
Adults need to obtain a limited public use permit or annual public hunting permit before using the area.