NEWS HEADLINES

Splendor in the Grass: Wise County’s LBJ Grasslands helps preserve North Texas’ precious prairie

By Jimmy Alford | Published Wednesday, February 20, 2013

This is the first in a multi-part series covering the LBJ/Caddo Grasslands.

The tall, dry grasses rustle in the wintry breeze, while cardinals and bluejays skirt the tops.

In the distance, the mellow chatter of ducks echoes off the tall dam and a single crane takes flight over Black Creek Lake.

Welcome to the Caddo-LBJ National Grasslands – one of Wise County’s greatest natural assets.

Although the early months of the year see cold temperatures, the Grasslands (located in southeastern Fannin and northern Wise counties, respectively) are teeming with life and activity. Each day, horseback riders roam its large expanses and work their way down trails. During hunting season, green- and orange-clad sportsmen roam the thickets in the quest for abundant game.

But the season will soon start to warm up, along with the weather, bringing greener pastures and even more bustling wildlife activity.

Caddo-LBJ National Grasslands District Ranger Erik Taylor has been in the area for less than a year, and he said he has only scratched the surface of the complexity that is the Grasslands.

“I’ve never worked on a National Grassland, and I have discovered the incredible public demand for recreation use. It’s refreshing,” Taylor said.

SUNSET OF THE GRASSLANDS - The sun goes down over Cottonwood Lake in the LBJ Grasslands. Get in touch with a rare, precious natural resource in the Messenger's multi-part series on the Grasslands. Explore the outdoors that is almost in your own backyard. Messenger photo by Jimmy Alford

SUNSET OF THE GRASSLANDS – The sun goes down over Cottonwood Lake in the LBJ Grasslands. Get in touch with a rare, precious natural resource in the Messenger’s multi-part series on the Grasslands. Explore the outdoors that is almost in your own backyard. Messenger photo by Jimmy Alford

Unlike many other federally owned public lands, the Grasslands have the distinction of being located near a large metropolitan area. Taylor said most other forests that he has worked have had primarily resource-centered use, where the Grasslands have far more recreation.

“The Grasslands serve over 6 million people to the south of the district, and their need to reconnect with nature is amazing. I love meeting and speaking with people about their desire to use the Grasslands as a place to introduce their children to hunting, camping, bird-watching, hiking and any other activity that doesn’t involve being indoors.”

Taylor said the USDA Forest Service wants to see more “kids in the woods,” and that is happening at the Grasslands.

The official mission of the Grasslands mirrors that of the Forest Service, which is to sustain the health, diversity and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations.

To that end, the Grasslands is also a place of industry, where specially permitted businesses are allowed to explore for natural gas, and ranchers use the area to graze cattle.

National grasslands are managed like national forests. While there are 155 national forests in the U.S., there are only 20 national grasslands – five of them located in Texas.

STANDING TALL - Wet with dew, Cattails wave back and forth in the morning breeze. Messenger photo by Jimmy Alford

STANDING TALL – Wet with dew, Cattails wave back and forth in the morning breeze. Messenger photo by Jimmy Alford

HISTORY

Areas designated as grasslands were originally settled in the 19th century under Homestead Acts that opened land to people settling in the West. The Dust Bowl of the 1920s into the 1930s caused many homesteads on poor farmland to literally dry up and blow away. Congress then established the Land Utilization Program that bought homesteads from bankrupt farmers to turn them into public land. The Civilian Conservation Corps, a Depression-era program, worked to halt the erosion by replanting and using conservation techniques. In the 1950s, the USDA Forest Service took over management of the Grasslands.

EARLY MORNING - Dew collects on the tops of tall grasses on a cool, densely fogged morning at Black Creek Lake. Messenger photo by Jimmy Alford

EARLY MORNING – Dew collects on the tops of tall grasses on a cool, densely fogged morning at Black Creek Lake. Messenger photo by Jimmy Alford

ABOUT THE LBJ GRASSLANDS

The LBJ is a tall-grass prairie interspersed with the post and blackjack oak Cross Timbers. The roughly 20,250-acre spread has one developed recreation area, located at Black Creek Lake.

TADRA Point is a designated trailhead and is the primary access point for the 75-mile LBJ Trail system. The Grasslands also has several lakes, creeks and roads suitable for street legal vehicles.

BLOWING IN THE WIND - A windmill at TADRA Point spins furiously in the heavy, early morning wind. Behind, the full moon shines brightly, illuminating the clouds. Messenger photo by Jimmy Alford

BLOWING IN THE WIND – A windmill at TADRA Point spins furiously in the heavy, early morning wind. Behind, the full moon shines brightly, illuminating the clouds. Messenger photo by Jimmy Alford

ABOUT THE CADDO GRASSLANDS

“The Caddo is primarily made up of bottomland hardwood forest in the central unit,” Taylor said. “There is Fannin Lake, which is a federally listed Nat-ional Historical Place that’s also unique and the blackland prairie in the Ladonia Unit of the Caddo, which is truly unique to this part of Texas.”

The Caddo is about 17,785 acres and contains three lakes, with the largest being the 651-acre Lake Coffee Mill. There is also Lake Davy Crockett that is 388 acres and West Lake Davy Crockett.

WALKING ALONG THE SHORE - A crane cautiously walks near the water's edge. Messenger photo by Jimmy Alford

WALKING ALONG THE SHORE – A crane cautiously walks near the water’s edge. Messenger photo by Jimmy Alford

COMING UP

… an in-depth look at recreation at both the LBJ and Caddo Grasslands. Look forward to reading about camping, horseback riding, birdwatching and even stargazing.

For information or to share a personal story about the Grasslands, email jalford@wcmessenger.com.

WINGSPAN - A buzzard (black vulture) spreads its wings while sitting atop a bare-topped tree. Messenger photo by Jimmy Alford

WINGSPAN – A buzzard (black vulture) spreads its wings while sitting atop a bare-topped tree. Messenger photo by Jimmy Alford

Leave a Reply. Note: As of March 24, 2011, all posted comments will include the users full name.

WCMessenger.com News and Blog Comment Guidelines

You must be logged in to post a comment.