The Award-Winning Mineola Nature Preserve Offers a Full Summer of Outdoor Fun



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The Mineola Nature Preserve hosts Nature Fest on May 25-26, but nobody has to wait that long to visit, and everybody has all summer for a return trip for an easy commune-with-nature experience.

The Mineola Nature Preserve on the Sabine River – the last part of the name is both descriptive and a qualifier to differentiate it from a similar facility in New York state – is the 2,911-acre Wood County home of critters that fly, walk, crawl, and slither including more than 193 species of birds, numerous wildlife, buffalo, longhorn cattle, and a wetlands environment.

Sometimes during the week, the place can be an almost private experience where a handful of visitors can get lost in the sights and the near-silence, nod to others who come along, and then keep contemplating in solitude or, by preference, share the experience with others.

Sharing is the much more likely outcome during Nature Fest.

Friday’s schedule begins with a western reenactment at 7 p.m., followed by a longhorn cattle drive at 7:30 p.m., cowboy songs with Cowboy Ray at 8 p.m., campfire stories by Jeff Hurley at 8:45 p.m., and East Texas Astronomers for some star gazing at 9:15 p.m.

The Saturday schedule includes an 8 a.m. birding hike with Ranger Boyd Sanders of Tyler State Park, a 9 a.m. amphibian/reptile nature hike with Dr. Neil Ford of the University of Texas at Tyler, The Creature Teacher, Birds of Prey with Last Chance Forever, a noon Memorial Day observance with Paul Gates, and more. The hikes can last up to two hours; the other Saturday events are about 45 minutes each.

Ongoing workshops and demonstrations from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. include 9-12 kids’ fish, face painting, Chrissy “The Turtle Lady” Kelly, nature photography with Gary Edwards, horticulture with master gardeners, fire starting and more with a master naturalist, the mussels of the Sabine River with Dr. Ford, the nature of bees with the East Texas Bee Keepers Association, painting at the preserve with Mineola League of the Arts, nature books with the Mineola Memorial Library, the Texas Forest Service, and more.

The preserve is being built in stages since 2002 with matching grants from Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and others, and is maintained by funding from the City of Mineola.

Walking, hiking, biking, birding, wildlife viewing, more than 20 miles of equestrian trails, fishing ponds, picnic areas, primitive camping areas, RV connections, two pavilions with restrooms, playground, and educational opportunities abound.

Among other installations is the active beehive on Johnnie Bendy Trail that can be viewed behind safety glass. There is an abandoned rail bed to accommodate walkers along the river, and historical markers that commemorate the Hasinai tribe of the Caddo nation and more.

One goal is to become a top 10 national choice destination for educators, birders, hikers, bikers, equestrians, local, regional, and other groups, and it’s already seen as being in the top 15 city parks in the nation for its size.

Visitors praise the preserve.

“They have done a nice job,” one said. “The trailhead facilities include great views along wildlife viewing corridors and well-maintained restroom facilities.”

“It really is a walk, not a hike,” said one, happy for the easy conditions along the 1880-era railroad right of way that is the primary path along the river.

“Down the trail from the flower garden is “Bridge Bob Pond” with a fishing deck and fountain,” another said. “The pond is named for the man who checked the bridges and trestles of the railroad for burning embers left behind by the trains and to prevent fires. Around the pond were picnic tables as well as a fish food station. It’s obvious that the minnows and small fish in the pond are accustomed to being fed because they come to the edge of the lake at any sign of possible fish food. Oh, and we saw a lot of neat dragonflies.”

“The shaded trails were lovely,” one said, “with the trees covering the path and intertwined with various types of vines. Along the path are markers telling you the different tree types and vines.”

The park is open daily from 7 a.m. to sunset.

For more information, call 903.569.6983.

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