Whenever you find yourself in East Texas, you never really want to peel back the preverbal pine curtain. Instead, you want to get lost in it.
Texas is home to four National Forests and in between Crockett and Lufkin, you’ll find the Davy Crockett National Forest. “This area serves the public I think in so many different ways,” said Jimmy Tyree.
Jimmy is the District Ranger for the Davy Crockett Davy Crockett National Forest and doesn’t beat around the bush when it comes to his favorite forest in Texas. “Oh, it’s Davy Crockett. A little bit small, 160,000 acres, but does a lot of work,” said Jimmy.
At the center point of the Davy Crockett National Forest, you’ll find the Ratcliff Lake Recreation Area. Built by the Civilian Conversation Corps in 1936, it’s a great place to set up camp. “[There] really is not a bad campsite in the whole place,” said Jimmy.
The sights, the smells, and the sounds are what set this park apart. “A lot of people enjoy the quietness and the birds,” said Jimmy.
Simply sitting back and letting the songbirds serenade you is something that’s good for the soul. “Well, nobody gets a chance to be quiet anymore. Not enough people are quiet. There’s something to be said about that,” said Jimmy.
This place is so peaceful that no matter what the season, people like to come here. “We are full almost year-round, even in the summertime when it can be brutal. People are still coming out here enjoying it and that says a lot,” said Jimmy.
Before this park of the National Park became such a safe haven for trees that can touch the top of the Texas sky, it was surprisingly home to a sawmill. “1902 to about 1920, the Central Coal and Coke Company logged here. And then in 1930, the Texas legislature at that time identified this area as something they wanted to go ahead and put into the National Forest system. And then in 1936 is when Roosevelt actually designated the Davy Crockett National Forest,” said Jimmy.
“So, these are the ruins from the old sawmill from 1902 to 1920 and this whole area had at that time, up to 30,000 people. You wouldn’t know it now,” explained Jimmy while walking around the ruins that have forest surrounding them now. “Nowadays the population’s probably less than 500 for both areas. The amount of timber that was produced from this mill back then is just amazing. And one of the biggest, at that time, this mill was one of the biggest in the nation,” said Jimmy.
I can’t get over the fact that so much of the old factory is still there, from formed foundations to massive metal pieces sticking out of stone columns. “Artifacts are always being discovered, different things. It isn’t a very active site as far as anytime anything happens here, anytime any work is done, we always have an archeologist on site monitoring it, because something is usually always dug up,” explained Jimmy. “A lot of folks look at the pictures from the 19 hundreds, 1920s, 1930s, and they don’t recognize that this is the same place because back then you could see miles, there were zero trees. They had cut everything down.”
It’s amazing to see what can grow in a hundred years. To this day, logging is still a vital part of the national park. “We’re still able to provide a tremendous amount of timber. In fact, the output here in the southeast region, we’re one of the tops of the nation even though we’re down in the southeast. A lot of folks think of the big timber production being up in the northwest, Pacific Northwest, but we actually compete with them down here very strongly,” said Jimmy. “The quickness that the timber grows here is nothing like I’ve experienced in other places. This area is very unique in that respect.”
American poet Henry David Thoreau once wrote, “I took a walk in the woods and came out taller than the trees.” Well what tall Texan doesn’t want to be just a little bit taller. So, take a little time to breathe in the pine or maybe search for the hide and seek champion of the world, because I don’t have to go out on a limb to say that this is well worth a stop on The Texas Bucket List. “It’s a little jewel for this area. It absolutely is,” said Jimmy.