By GRACE GADDY
PALESTINE — Sometimes, one may need to get away from it all, and a weekend in the heart of nature could provide the perfect avenue to do so.
In season with the 76th Annual Dogwood Trails Celebration, nature lovers are invited to come out this weekend to camp, take pictures, tour the lush, wooded landscape and visit with new acquaintances at the 480-acre Ivy Payne Wildlife Refuge near Elkhart.
The refuge will be open at 4 p.m. Friday through Sunday afternoon and is located at the end of Anderson County Road 134.
Nature tours through the hills and bottomlands of Parker Creek will start at 9 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Saturday, and 9 a.m. Sunday, led by East Texas Naturalist Dr. Heinz Gaylord.
The retired Stephen F. Austin professor “can name every plant in East Texas,” according to Dr. Earl Matthew, stewardship chairman of the property.
There also will be a potluck supper Saturday night and a photo presentation of fauna and flora of the refuge. The property is equipped with a covered pavilion, two full bathrooms and a kitchen for common use.
Camping is primitive in woods adjacent to the covered pavilion. Small RV’s can be accommodated, though RV hookups and generators cannot be used.
Matthew said visitors may want to use the refuge as a home base to participate in other Dogwood Festival events.
“If people want to just come camp there and do some of our tours and then do some of the events, they're welcome to do so,” he said. “It's just an opportunity for our land trust property to be open to the public and be utilized. What usually happens, we'll take a walking tour in the morning and then by afternoon people know the property well enough they can sort of go out on their own if they'd like.”
Matthew said there is no cost to visit the property, but donations are appreciated.
He said the refuge is a popular site for hikers, campers, photographers, bird watchers and other respecters of nature, as the property presents a unique confluence of East Texas features – from Trinity River bottomland hardwoods to the Piney Woods ecosystems to the iron ore sandstone hills of Anderson County.
“So it's a neat place; it has really got a lot of geology characteristics,” he said, which include a diverse mature hardwood-pine forest, small waterfalls, 12 species of ferns, a real bee tree and a variety of mushroom and orchids.
Matthew said the refuge is located on “four big hills that all drop into the creek that runs through Elkhart.”
According to the Texas Land Conservancy's website, Ivy Payne grew up in Eastland and worked for the Railroad Commission in Kilgore before moving to Houston and becoming an executive secretary for Exxon, a champion golfer and world traveler. In 1965, she discovered the land that would later become the wildlife refuge and purchased 500 acres for her retirement.
Payne made a retreat out of an old house on the property and later built a new home, which is now used by caretakers Gloria and Robert McElroy.
Payne and her sister Ima shared a love of the country and a wonder of nature, according to the website – “birds were special joy to them both and they valued and appreciated this property.”
The two encouraged Boy Scouts to camp on their land, on Iron Ore Hill, and Payne bartered with Chevron Pipeline Company to improve walking trails and build bridges over the creeks. Shortly after her sister died, Payne donated the property to the the Nature Conservancy in July 1986, before ownership was transferred to the Texas Land Conservancy in 1987.
“Back in the late '80s, 440 acres in Elkhart basically became the property of the Texas Land Conservancy,” Matthew said. “We're the second largest land trust in Texas... and basically we own some properties that people are trying to preserve. She gave the land to the land trust.”
According to the website, Payne's “wish was that the property be a place for education and public enjoyment.”
For more information, visit the Texas Land Conservancy website at www.texaslandconservancy.org or call 361-790-3074. For more on events of the 76th Annual Dogwood Trails Celebration, visit the Dogwood Trails website at www.texasdogwoodtrails.com.