For as long as I’ve been back home from college, the quiet roads and open hillsides of the Lyndon B. Johnson National Grasslands have been my favorite place.
As a cyclist and outdoorsman, having 20,250 acres of protected land and water within just a few miles of my home has been a real treat.
I’ve mapped bike routes running in every direction from Decatur, and I’ve gotten a pretty good idea of where housing and business developments are beginning to pop up around the county. I’ve watched traffic on streets like Preskitt Road and County Road 4010 swell with new homes, subdivisions and churches. And I get it, these things are needed as our community grows. But I also feel a twinge of sadness every time a gravel road gets paved or a field that I used to watch deer run through get platted for new homes.
The U.S. Forest Service will hold a series of public meetings this month, beginning with a public feedback session Monday, March 20, at the Decatur Civic Center from 6 to 8 p.m to discuss the future of land management at the grasslands.
It’s routine for the Forest Service to revise its Land and Resource Management Plan every 10 to 15 years. According to the Forest Service’s website, the current plan “no longer represents the current needs of the forest and neighboring communities” due to changes in demographics, oil and gas technologies, declining budgets and public expectations for public lands. This is a chance for Wise County residents to voice their thoughts on future land management at the grasslands. Things like a greater emphasis on drilling, grazing or recreation are on the table Monday, and I’ll attend the meeting and report what’s said for an article in next Wednesday’s paper because it’s important to know where both our government officials and fellow residents stand on these issues. As a reporter, I wouldn’t want to take up time others may use to speak at the meeting. I’m there to report, not take a side. But as a frequent grasslands visitor, cyclist, fisherman and Eagle Scout, I feel compelled to voice my opinion here:
This land deserves our protection. While growth in Wise County is inevitable, some places are meant to be kept wild. Keeping the land in public hands is the best way to preserve this. And the public uses it. The TADRA point (horseback riding) trailhead was packed Wednesday when I rode by. Two Boy Scout troops were camped near Cottonwood lake, and several hikers were out on the Forest Service roads enjoying the moderate temperatures. Volunteers are a regular workforce at the grasslands, taking responsibility for several ongoing projects. This weekend, trail runners from around the state will converge on the grasslands for the 19th annual Grasslands Trail Run. While its likely hard to measure the tourism impact of the grasslands, those runners have to stay and eat somewhere, right? A quick Facebook search of posts pertaining to “LBJ Grasslands” or “Caddo LBJ” brings up hundreds of posts from mostly out-of-town visitors, posting photos of their trip to our beautiful grasslands.
Recently, a Messenger article on the QuikTrip gas station planned for the southeast corner of U.S. 81/287 and West Hale Avenue created a stir online. The new business will replace Cornerstone Baptist Church, which has bought property across town at the intersection of Preskitt Road and Deer Park Road. The issue resulted in a fair amount of pushback, with some readers upset our town is becoming less like the small, rural community we grew up in. Facebook comments do little to impact planning and zoning board decisions, but voicing your opinion at a public meeting is a means for affecting real change.
Sometimes I listen to music when I ride. I’ll usually leave my left earbud out so I can hear traffic, with the right one providing just enough tunes to cut through wind noise and excess vehicle sounds. With recent increases in local traffic, I’ve caught myself riding with music more and more, but in the grasslands I don’t have to. Out there, there’s nothing to block out.
David Talley is a Messenger reporter.