July 11, 2015
Contact: Merrick Moody
Summer is a great time to explore the waterways of Big Thicket National Preserve. Most visitors experience few problems beyond the occasional sunburn or mosquitoes bites. However, there are several safety and environmental concerns that you should be aware of if you plan to spend time exploring the waterways of the preserve. “Water safety is important to us. We want every visitor to have a safe trip when they visit the preserve.” stated Big Thicket National Preserve Superintendent Wayne Prokopetz.
The preserve is a natural and wild area. Common hazards, such as strong currents, underwater debris, downed trees, and E. coli levels in the water will change with increases and decreases in water flows and flooding. There are no designated swimming areas or life-guarded beaches in the preserve. Swimming is not recommended -- never dive or jump into water where you cannot see the bottom. It is recommended that everyone, especially younger people, wear a personal flotation device (PFD) at all times when using the waterways. Remember that entry into any waterways whether wading, swimming, or paddling during high water levels is dangerous. Inexperienced swimmers should exercise caution and never enter waterways alone. Rope swings are not permitted within the preserve boundaries and should be considered very dangerous.
Following a few rules can make boating, kayaking and canoeing fun and safe. Know the capacity of your boat and don’t exceed it. Be sure to have a PDF for every passenger. If you are an inexperienced canoeist/kayaker, we encourage you to pursue instruction in paddling techniques and try an easy quiet stretch of flat water before venturing into moving water. If you tip over in fast-moving water, stay with the vessel on the upstream side until you reach a calm, safe spot.
Remember that weather can be very dangerous. Weather conditions in southeast Texas can change quickly. Be prepared for fast moving storms or changes in wind direction and strength. Don’t make yourself a target for lightning. Leave the water during storms, seek shelter, and avoid lone tall trees or high places. Even in the warm climate of southeast Texas hypothermia can occur. Hypothermia, reduced body temperature caused by exposure to cold weather or water, can strike in warm weather if the water is cold enough. Shivering is the first sign of hypothermia; leave the water and warm up. Heat stress is the #1 weather related killer in the United States. Know and watch for the warning signs of dehydration, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke (a medical emergency).
Poison ivy is abundant in the Big Thicket. Avoid plants with “leaves of three.” Mosquitoes, ticks, and chiggers can all leave irritating bites and some can transmit diseases. Alligators and venomous snakes can be found in and around the preserve. Exercise extreme caution and give all snakes and alligators a lot of space.
Visitors are reminded to wear a hat and to bring insect repellent, sunblock, and drinking water. Drug and alcohol use is not permitted within the preserve boundaries, and may interfere with your ability to recreate safely. Federal law protects the collections of all plants, animals, and cultural artifacts. If you or someone else observes, or is in, an emergency situation, please dial 911 immediately.
Big Thicket National Preserve is location in southeast Texas, near the city Beaumont and 75 miles northeast of Houston. The preserve consists of nine land units and six water corridors encompassing more than 112,000 acres. The Big Thicket, often referred to as a “biological crossroads,” is a transition zone between four distinct vegetation types – the moist eastern hardwood forest, the southwestern desert, the southeastern swamp, and the central prairies. Species from all of these different vegetation types come together in the thicket, exhibiting a variety of vegetation and wildlife that has received national interest.
For general information about Big Thicket National Preserve, visit www.nps.gov/bith or call the preserve visitor center at 409-951-6700. ---NPS---