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.