Martin Dies, Jr. State Park
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Distance: 5.00 Miles
Martin Dies Jr. State Park occupies a series of peninsulas and islands near the Eastern shore of teh B.A. Steinhagen reservior about 11 miles from Jasper Tx. on US Highway 190. The park is divided into two main sections, Walnout Ridge Unit, on the North side of the highway, and Hen House Unit, on the South side. Cherokee Unit, a third section, consisting only of a small picnic area lies on the other side of the lake. The two main sections each have several short trails adding up to a total of about 5 1/2 miles of hiking and biking trail in the park as a whole.
Upon entering either side of the park one will pass at least one trailhead on the entrance road but there is no designated parking at any of them so it is best to continue and start from locations farther inside the park. In the Walnut Ridge Unit the best place to park for access to the trail is in the unpaved parking area next to campsite 104. In the Hen House Unit park at the headquarters and start hiking from there.
Walnut Ridge has two trails of consequence, the Island Trail, .8 miles in lenght, and the Wildlife Trail, 1.5 miles, both are easy walks on level ground composed of packed sandy loam, the trails are easy enough that one might even consider taking a stroller or wheelchair on it if their has not been much rain. Two wooden bridges, the longer and taller of which affords a picturesque view of the lake, connect the Island Trail to the mainland. Across the bridge lies a looping path around the perimeter of a small island from whence it gets its name. The path is good but is totally enclosed by thick undergrowth on both sides and shaded overhead by pines, oaks, yaupon holly, sweet gum, and other trees, imparting the feeling of walking through a jungle. To the shoreward side one can see glimpses of the lake, so shallow at this point that thickets of cypress trees dot its surface, giving the impression of a flooded forest rather than a lake. Benches are placed at strategic locations for partaking of the view and here hikers can look out upon the cypress trees and pond lillies that are so prevelent here.
If one wishes to keep going after completing the island loop then a bridge leads to the Wildlife Trail on the mainland. Despite the name the only wildlife to be seen were insects, though auditory evidence of wildlife, in the form of a chorus of bird song was ever present. Here the trail was wider, the woods much more open, and populated largely with pine, but with all the other types mentioned represented as well, plus several examples of a thorn tree coloquially known as a "Devil's walking stick" and some of the biggest Magnolias I have ever seen, one of which was nearly four feet in diameter at chest height and a good 60 feet tall. The Wildlife trail terminates at the entrance road and one must walk along the pavement for approximately an half mile or else retrace one's steps to get back to the parking area.
Across the higway, at the Hen House Unit I was not able to hike the Forest Trail, the shorter of its two, due to lack of time, but I was able to walk the Slough Trail, 2.2 miles in length, with about a third of that following the park entrance road. To get to the slough trail walk in either direction from the park headquarters about an half mile to one of the trailheads. Much of this trail leads through piney woods, similar in character to those of the Wildlife Trail described earlier, the major difference being that here one may see at various places along the way, great gashes in the forest where the trees have been clear cut for one reason or another. Near the North end of this trail one will find a series of wooden bridges through a swamp, the prettiest scenery in the entire park and worth walking the rest of the trail to see, even if this sight is only visble for a stretch of a few hundred yards. The effect is spoiled somewhat though by it's proximity to the highway, as the noise of cars and trucks is very intrusive at this point.