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Big Thicket National Preserve
Big thicket.jpg
Big Thicket National Preserve is located in Texas
Big Thicket National Preserve
Big Thicket National Preserve
Location in Texas
Big Thicket National Preserve is located in the United States
Big Thicket National Preserve
Big Thicket National Preserve
Location in the United States
Location Southeast Texas, U.S.
Nearest city Kountze, Texas
Area 113,122 acres (457.79 km2)
Authorized October 11, 1974 (1974-October-11)
Visitors 137,722 (in 2011)
Governing body National Park Service
Website Big Thicket National Preserve

The Big Thicket is the name given to a somewhat imprecise region of a heavily-forested area of Southeast Texas in the United States. This area represents a portion of the mixed pine-hardwood forests of southeast US. The National Park Service established the Big Thicket National Preserve (BTNP) within the region in 1974 and it is recognized as a biosphere reserve by UNESCO. Although the diversity of animals in the area is high, with over 500 vertebrates, it is the complex mosaic of ecosystems and plant diversity that is particularly remarkable. Biologists have identified at least eight, and up to eleven, ecosystems in the Big Thicket area. More than 160 species of trees and shrubs, 800 herbs and vines, and 340 types of grasses are known to occur in the Big Thicket, and estimates as high as over 1000 flowering plant species and 200 trees and shrubs have been made, plus ferns, carnivorous plants, and more. The Big Thicket has historically been the most dense forest region in what is now Texas.

Native Americans are known to have lived and hunted in the area nomadically, but did not establish permanent settlements there before the Alabama–Coushatta settled in the northeast about 1780. Spanish explorers and missionaries generally avoided the area and routed their roads around it. Logging in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries dramatically reduced the forest concentration. Efforts to save the Big Thicket from the devastation of oil and lumber industries started as early as the 1920s with the founding of the East Texas Big Thicket Association by Richard Elmer Jackson. In recent years, claims of the Big Thicket's position as a "biological crossroads" and its uniqueness have been called into question by some, arguing that the same habitat that occurs in Southeast Texas extends into Louisiana and eastward; however the importance of saving a representative sample of the Big Thicket was not questioned and regarded as something "for which we must be eternally grateful" by the same authors.

While no exact boundaries exist, conservatively the area occupies all of Hardin County, most of Polk, and Tyler counties, and parts of Jasper, Liberty and San Jacinto counties, including areas between the Neches River on the east, the Trinity River on the west, Pine Island Bayou on the south, to the higher elevations and older Eocene geological formations to the north. Broader interpretations have included everything between the Sabine River on the east and the San Jacinto River on the west including much of Montgomery, Newton, Trinity, and Walker counties as well. Several attempts to define the boundaries of the Big Thicket have been made, including a biological survey in 1936 which included over 3,350,000 acres (13,600 km2) covering 14 counties. A later botanical based study in 1972 included a region of over 2,000,000 acres (8,100 km2).


One's fondness for the area is hard to explain. It has no commanding peak or awesome gorge, no topographical feature of distinction. Its appeal is more subtle. – Big Thicket Legacy, University of Texas Press, 1977.
Old Big Thicket
Historical limits of the Big Thicket region prior to the Texas Revolution. Deforestation has dramatically reduced its size.

The terrain in the Big Thicket is flat or gently rolling. The area lies on the flat coastal plain of Texas, and is crossed by numerous small streams. The extent of the region was once much larger than today covering more than 2 million acres (8,100 km2) in east Texas. The Spaniards, who once ruled the region, defined its boundaries in the north as El Camino Real de los Tejas, a trail that ran from central Texas to Nacogdoches; in the south as La Bahia Road or Atascosito Road, a trail that ran from southwest Louisiana into southeast Texas west of Galveston Bay; to the west by the Brazos River; and to the east by the Sabine River. Timber harvesting in the 19th and 20th centuries dramatically reduced the extent of the dense woodlands. Prior to the acquisition of a reservation in 1854, the Alabama-Coushattas resided in the Big Thicket.

The Big Thicket's geographical features are believed to have their origins with the Western Interior Seaway, an inland sea that covered much of North America during the Cretaceous period. Over time, water smoothed out the land along what is now Texas's coastline.

Small towns are contained within the Big Thicket. Most of these towns developed in the late 19th century in support of the lumber industry, as evidenced by names like Lumberton. As transportation through the area improved (including the construction of US 59, US 69 and 96), many of the towns slowly became suburbs of the much larger cities of Beaumont to the south and Houston to the southwest.


What the Big Thicket lacks in geographical aesthetics is made up for by the biodiversity contained within. During the last glacial period, plant and animal species from many different biomes moved into the area. Before their extinction, the Big Thicket was home to most species of North American megafauna.

Today the Big Thicket retains numerous species, and has been described as the "biological crossroads of North America" or the "American Ark". The area contains over 100 species of trees and shrubs, with Longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) once dominating the region. Big Thicket National Preserve has introduced programs to re-establish this dominance, including one of the US's most active prescribed burn programs. With the National Park Service's centennial occurring in 2016, efforts are in progress to plant between 100,000 and 300,000 Longleaf Pines. The National Park Service lists more than one thousand species of flowering plants and ferns that can also be found in the thicket, including 20 orchids and four types of carnivorous plants.

Animal life includes 300 species of migratory and nesting birds, many endangered or threatened including the Red-cockaded Woodpecker, and possibly extinct Ivory-billed Woodpecker. The thicket is also home to numerous reptile species, including all four groups of North American venomous snakes and alligators.

Notable people

  • John Alexander (born 1945, Beaumont, Jefferson County), American painter that often draws inspiration and paints the landscape of Southeast Texas
  • Brian Philip Babin (born 1948, resident of Woodville, Tyler County) U.S. representative from Texas's 36th congressional district since January 2015
  • Annette Gordon-Reed (born 1958, Livingston, Polk County) historian and Pulitzer Prize winning author
  • George Glenn Jones (1931, Saratoga, Hardin County – 2013) country musician and songwriter
  • Margo Jones (1913, Livingston, Polk County – 1955) stage and theater director nicknamed "The Texas Tornado"
  • Aubrey Wilson Mullican (1909, Polk County – 1967) known as "Moon Mullican, King of the Hillbilly Piano Players", country-western musician and songwriter

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