Stephen F. Austin Experimental Forest Interpretive Trail System

Minutes from Nacogdoches and Lufkin lies a hidden forest treasure…

The Forest

The Stephen F. Austin Experimental Forest (SFAEF), located 8 miles southwest of Nacogdoches, Texas, offers quiet refuge to all who seek the natural enchantment of a forest experience. Tucked away in the heart of the Pineywoods, the Forest is bordered on its southern and eastern boundaries by the Angelina River and the Alazan Wildlife Management Area.

The SFAEF is a 2,560-acre tract consisting of approximately 1,800 acres of mature bottomland hardwood with the remainder being southern pine and mixed pine/hardwood forest. Part of the Angelina National Forest, SFAEF is administered by the Southern Research Station through its Wildlife Habitat and Silviculture Laboratory in Nacogdoches.

Since its adoption into the National Forest System in 1945, the primary objective of the experimental forest has been wildlife and timber management research. The site is also used as an outdoor classroom in the study of forest ecosystems for students majoring in forestry, wildlife management, forest recreation, and environmental science. In 1990, management objectives for the SFAEF were expanded to include educational and recreational opportunities for the general public.

The Interpretive Trail System

Completed in the summer of 1997, the Forest's innovative interpretive trail system represents the commitment of the USDA Forest Service to meet the changing needs and perspectives of society. Unique in its concept and design, it features the first major trail in this region designed and constructed for universal accessibility. Two separate loops, spanning a distance of 2.8 miles, take visitors into some of the most dynamic and scenic areas of the Forest.

Jack Creek Loop

Jack Creek is a cool, clear, spring-fed perennial stream which serves as the centerpiece for this loop. Traversing gentle slopes along the banks of the creek, this barrier-free, 0.8-mile-long surfaced trail provides universal access to a mature mixed forest where 100-year-old pines and hardwoods still stand stalwart against the rush of modern time.

The rich, moist soils along the creek support diverse vegetation dominated by hardwoods. The large, old trees in this area offer the visitor a soothing environment for exercise as well as opportunities for quiet reflection and relaxation. Since these trees also provide cover and food, which support many species of birds and mammals, wildlife viewing (especially birding) is an inherent part of the unobtrusive visitor's experience.

Management Loop

As environmental issues become increasingly a part of public awareness and concern, the Forest Service is taking the initiative to provide and promote conservation education. Experiential learning opportunities offered in a living outdoor classroom are geared toward fostering respect for our forest resources and appreciation of sound management principles. Once federal injunctions are lifted from the National Forests and Grasslands in Texas and treatments can be imposed, the Management Loop will be dedicated to the demonstration of the best management practices for both timber and wildlife.

Winding 2.0 miles through five different units of the Forest, this loop will provide visitors a chance to view an array of forest management practices at various stages of process. Not just a path through the Forest, the trail is like a corridor through time. Integrated into the management objectives for each different area, it will permit visitors to witness firsthand the forest's response to various treatments across the years. Visitors may also observe wildlife while learning about a variety of forest habitats.

General Information

Approximately one half of the more than 300 species of birds which are common to east Texas are found in the various habitat types on the Forest. More than 80 species of butterflies add color and quiet beauty, while the anticipation of catching a glimpse of one of the roughly 30 indigenous mammals makes each visit exciting for wildlife lovers.

The temperate climate of east Texas permits year-round use of the trail and invites visitors to appreciate the special beauty each season brings. The trail is open to the public daily during daylight hours for wheelchair and foot traffic only. Binoculars and cameras can enhance lasting memories. Visitors may wish to bring their own water, as fountains are only available near the parking area and trail entrance. Insect repellent is advised from May through September. Handicap and bus parking spaces are provided. Shaded picnic tables are provided adjacent to the parking area. Accessible restrooms are located at the trail entrance. Pets must be kept on a leash. Firearms are prohibited. The Jack Creek Loop has a moderate difficulty rating, while the Management Loop offers a more challenging and strenuous walk. Interpretive materials are available for self-paced, self-guided tours, or special arrangements can be made for conducted group activities.

Volunteers Needed!

If you have special outdoor skills and would like to participate in local conservation education activities, please contact Craig Rudolph at (936) 569-7981 or crudolph01@fs.fed.us.