EAST TEXAS — Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) introduced a bill in the U.S. Senate, S. 2324, the Upper Neches Wild and Scenic River Study Act. If passed, the bill would authorize a formal study of the eligibility of a specific section of East Texas’ Neches River for designation as a National Wild and Scenic River. The National Park Service or the U.S. Forest Service would study this 225-mile section of the Neches River from the Lake Palestine dam in Anderson and Cherokee Counties to B.A.Steinhagen Lake in Jasper and Tyler Counties.
"The Neches River is one of Texas' most beautiful, free-flowing rivers and provides a vital habitat for fish and other aquatic animals," said Sen. Hutchison. "Its location in the heart of the Central Flyway makes it a crucial path for migrating ducks, geese, and songbirds. A Wild and Scenic River designation would help preserve all these attributes."
Texas Conservation Alliance and Friends of the Neches River applauded Senator Hutchison’s vision for Texas’ future.
“The Neches River is a tremendous asset for Texans,” said Richard Donovan, author of Paddling the Wild Neches. “Senator Hutchison’s bill is the first step toward protecting its value for our children and our children’s children.”
The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act allows for the identification of certain rivers in the United States which have outstanding qualities. There are about 200 rivers in the U.S. with wild and scenic status. Texas has one national river of this type, a section of the Rio Grande River bordering Big Bend National Park.
The National Wild and Scenic Rivers System includes selected rivers in the United States to be recognized for outstandingly remarkable scenic, recreational, geologic, fish and wildlife, historic, cultural, or other similar values. Often the goal of this designation is to preserve the character of a river.
Senator Hutchison’s bill would amend the original Act of 1968, authorizing the study and providing protections for landowners along this segment of the river. Should the study result in a recommendation that this section of the Neches River be named a National Wild and Scenic River, it would require another bill by Congress for the segment to be designated.
The Neches River runs through the heart of East Texas. Within the 225-mile segment proposed in this study, the river flows through the recently-established Neches River National Wildlife Refuge and borders the Davy Crockett National Forest and the Angelina National Forest.
“This is a major step for the protection of private property and our natural resources in the East Texas region,” said Dr. Michael Banks of Friends of the Neches River. “The bill would not allow the use of eminent domain to condemn private property in association with the study or designation of this section of the Neches River as a Wild and Scenic River. It ensures the protection of private property rights and our outdoor heritage of hunting and fishing.”
The 2-to-3 year study would look at whether this section of the Neches River is eligible to be a Wild and Scenic River and whether the designation is suitable for the river. Area cities and counties, riverside property owners, timber interests, recreational users, water developers, tourism officials, and others with a stake in the Neches will be invited to provide input for the study.
“The Neches River bottoms are some of the best wildlife habitat left in Texas,” added Janice Bezanson of Texas Conservation Alliance. “The river’s exceptional beauty and recreational potential are worthy of national recognition. Its role in the settling of Texas makes it important from a historical perspective.”
“We’re very grateful to Senator Hutchison for introducing this bill to study this section of the Neches River,” concluded Ellen Temple of Lufkin. “The original Wild and Scenic River Act was signed by President Lyndon Johnson. It seems especially appropriate to take the step toward protecting an East Texas river during the celebration of Lady Bird Johnson’s Centennial Year.”