Kelsey Crowther of Greenville walked across 132 miles of the Upper East Side of Texas recently with her dog, her mom, and her sister.
“I enjoyed the whole trail and the experience of traveling that far across Texas. I look at a map and I see where I started and that I made it all the way over here walking — it’s a good feeling of accomplishment.”
Crowther took on the challenge of walking the Northeast Texas Trail, better known as “the NETT” to regular users. It is the longest hiking, biking, and equestrian trail in Texas and the fourth-longest in the United States. Following an old railway corridor, it begins near Farmersville between McKinney and Greenville to the west, and ends in New Boston, about 24 miles west of Texarkana.
Formerly owned by Union Pacific and Chaparral railroads, the Northeast Texas Trail Coalition — a partnership among local and statewide trail advocates and government agencies — now manages the property.
A color-coded map on the NETT website gives good information for those planning to use the trail. It shows mileage from one town to the next and which areas are hike, bike, and horseback friendly. Some sections can be hiked but are not recommended for bikes or horses. The map shows all the bridges and culverts and it notes the areas where no hiking or riding is allowed due to heavy overgrowth or adjacent landowner issues, plus blockage and hazards with everything from fences to biting dogs.
Seeking the advice of the NE Texas Trail Facebook group helps users find where they need to exit the trail to use bypasses, where and how they can re-enter, and answer just about any question a user might have. The map also lists places to get food, find lodging, and points of interest in the towns along the way.
The trail connects 19 cites spread across seven counties. There are several creeks and more than 100 rail bridges. It begins about a block away from downtown Farmersville, at the Onion Shed, a large pavilion from the 1930s. Mile zero is marked with a rail tie in the ground. The first two and one-half miles are paved, then there are crushed stone, dirt, and gravel surfaces. Outside Farmersville, the route feels remote and forested.
Some portions of the trail are paved like in Farmersville, some are cleared and mowed, and a lot of it is rough terrain. While some parts of the trail are still under development, thousands of fans are already finding many miles of adventure.
Paris is a larger city than most of the small towns along the trail, with a population of more than 25,000. The portion of the NETT traveled to this point is called the Chaparral Rail Trail, and the section that goes through Paris is called Trail de Paris Rail Trail. This section is primarily paved with a painted center stripe. There are welcome signs at eight trail access points with parking available near them. As on other sections of the NETT, there are benches available for resting along the way. There is also a small butterfly garden and a nice corridor with many varieties of crepe myrtles.
According to the NETT group, the trail is in great shape and mostly paved from Paris through Reno to Blossom.
Kelly Whitley, the NETT Coalition’s Secretary, says of the trail’s condition from Bagwell to Clarksville, “It is a good solid natural surface newly cleared and probably really close to having phase one construction complete (grading, bridges, signage, safety bollards) with phase two surfacing coming soon thereafter. Could be a bridge still under construction but that is the only thing; that’s just a matter of timing.”
The final 22 mile section of the NETT runs alongside Highway 82 and is unpaved except for a short section in New Boston at the finish. There is a large trailhead with parking at North Elm Street and Southeast Front Street in New Boston.
Whitley and others in the NETT group are always ready with good information, updates, and support of fellow trail users.
After a recent hike with her dog, Kayla Fowler wrote, “I want to thank everyone that has helped me on this journey. All the hospitality, kindness and love I have seen and felt from strangers has given me more hope for humanity in these trying times. Stay safe and humble on the trail. It has been a life-altering experience for me.”
Robert Reveal recently posted, “First time to the trail in about three-four years. Great progress has been made. Did Farmersville to Wolfe City. Shout out to whoever is progressing the trail — a lot of work, I can tell.“
There are many reasons people love to hike or ride the trail. Some do it for good health, some love the challenge, and many just enjoy the walk among nature the trail provides. Others have specific reasons for the journey. Libby Rotan says she and her husband are walking the trail in sections as a memorial for her dad who died in 2020. They are starting in New Boston and finishing in Farmersville joining her mom and sister there on the April 6 anniversary of his death.
Now that Kelsey Crowther has walked the entire trail — along with her dog Ruby, sister Brianne Lock, and mother Sue Locke — she’s a good resource for others. Crowther says she stumbled upon the NETT while looking for something to do during the 2020 pandemic.
“I had gotten into hiking,” she says, “and was looking for places to do that when I found the Northeast Texas Trail and saw how massive it was.”
She and her family went to Farmersville one day to take a look.
“It is such a cute trail there,” she said, “and we thought it would be a really cool accomplishment to do, especially something open and free and fun in 2020.”
They aimed to do about 10 miles each leg of the trail to eventually walk all 132 miles, leaving Greenville most Sunday mornings around 4:45 so they could beat the heat.
They started in Farmersville their first day in May and did 7 or 8 miles and then her dad picked them up at a county road crossing. He stayed in the area where they were walking each week to pick them up at the end of each leg and sometimes met them along the way with water, especially for Ruby.
“My dog did the entire trail with me,” Crowther says, noting it wasn’t always easy for her canine friend as they made their way across bridges with ravines far below.
“She’s afraid of heights apparently and I didn’t know.”
Her mom was afraid of heights too.
“She kept going though,” Crowther says.
They did 12 miles on one trip, which was their longest, and stopped at six miles on one when her mom fell and they had to call it a day.
For the most part Crowther says she thoroughly enjoyed the journey, and although there were some unforeseen adventures along the way, they walked the entire 132 miles over 16 trips.
“We didn’t skip anything,” she says proudly, noting that in a couple of spots they had to use bypasses and work around other barriers.
“I didn’t do a lot of research until I got to the first burned up bridge,” she says, “so we had to go a few miles down, into a ravine, and cross the river. It was really difficult. It was too much for us.”
The bridges were the most challenging parts of the journey, Crowther says. There was one over Kickapoo Creek outside of Annona where all the trellises were rotten but still had metal so they decided to cross.
“It was passable, but scary,” she said, and with her mom and dog afraid of heights, it is not something they would do again.
There are a few other blocks along the trail and often they found a way to get around them.
She used the NETT map to do research each week for their next leg of the trip and relied on advice from the NETT group to learn from others. She stayed off one or two other bridges after that using the bypasses next to it.
Crowther said they were able to stay on the trail about 90 percent of the time. Sometimes there was high grass and they were unsure where they were stepping so she said much of the trail would be difficult for horses, although she hears bikers getting through much more of the trail than she thought possible.
“A lot of bikers make it through. I don’t know how they do that.”
Being surrounded by nature for miles and miles was relaxing and rewarding, she says.
“It was very serene in certain areas,” she says. “Sometimes there was a little pond, something most people hadn’t seen. Really nice.”
She enjoyed seeing a deer on the trail and other wildlife along the way. They encountered several dogs.
“I was worried they were going to be mean but they never were. One seemed to be looking out for us.”
Along the way they got a glimpse of each town.
“The trail goes right through the heart of each town. You kinda emerge from the wilderness, the middle of nowhere, with no cars or noises and then all of the sudden you’re near civilization again. We really had a good time.”
Crowther and her team finished the trail on September 13 and shared photos and video with the NETT group and many cheered and congratulated her.
She says she hopes the Northeast Texas Trail Coalition continues to make improvements to the trail so more can enjoy it. She definitely wants to go back.
“I thought about doing it once a year, having that as our big project. There are not a lot of trails like that around here. This one’s definitely got a special place in my heart.”
See a list of lodging ideas on Page 29. Go to www.netexastrail.org for safety rules, entrance points, and other information to plan an adventure across this beautiful part of the Upper East Side of Texas.
See Kelsey Crowther's videos of her journey HERE.