The East Texas Natural History Collection
The East Texas Natural History Collection

East Texas Natural History

Natural History notes for the Goodwin Nature Trail and Surrounding Area


By Dr. William Godwin


January 2012


Conservation Context


The Goodwin Nature Trail is located near the edge of North America’s eastern deciduous forest. When people of Dallasand Fort Worth head east on Highway 80, Wood County is the place where they first pass under the pine curtain. But pine trees are only one indicator of the transition. Many less well known southeastern plant species like sweetbay magnolia, chinquapin and sweetleaf (Symplocos) are on the edge of their range here.


The trail is at the eastern end of a 25,000 acre block of conservation lands that has been cobbled together beginning in 1987 with the Little Sandy National Wildlife Refuge. This riparian corridor is now a major conservation block comprised of state lands, conservation easements and outright purchases like the City of Mineola’s nature preserve. This remarkable accumulation of conservation lands makes the upperSabineRiver Basinone of the largest protected areas of bottomland hardwood forest in the state. However most of this land is not easily accessible by the public. The Goodwin Nature Trail is the first publicly accessible tract of this habitat that people encounter while driving East on 80. It is also the only tract that embraces the transition zone from dry uplands to bottomlands and significant groundwater based wetlands.


Conservation lands along the Sabine have attracted increased attention of diverse biologists over the last ten years and knowledge of the area’s natural history has been growing. Little Sandy National Wildlife Refuge has ongoing studies of its flora by state and federal biologists. Numerous other studies have been conducted on specific animals like bats and alligators in the area, but much remains to be learned. A major goal of the Goodwin trail is to promote understanding and appreciation of this ecological borderland. The East Texas Natural History Collection will work in conjunction with the nature trail to attract collectors and field biologists to further document the hyper-local natural heritage. Research by ETNHC Staff and associates has resulted in several noteworthy discoveries and we anticipate the rate of discovery to accelerate with the new nature trail and associated natural history collection. 

Figure 1

Figure 1: The Upper Sabine basin has roughly 25,000 acres under conservation. Jarvis Christian College campus (green) anchors the eastern end of this block.

Other tracts include:

1). Burleson Tract. TG WMP/TPWD 2800 ac.

2). Proposed mitigation lands for TXDOT 417 ac.

3). Mineola Preserve. 2543 ac.

4). Sabine River Ranch. WMP/TPWD 1800ac.

5). Oakhurst Farms. WRP/ETWP/DU 3613 ac.  

6). Old Sabine Bottom Wildlife Management Area Annex. 368 ac.

7). Gift Ranch. TG/TPWD 550 ac.

8). Old Sabine Bottom Wildlife Management Area 5158 ac.

9). Little Sandy National Wildlife Refuge. 4396 ac. 

Geological Setting


The Goodwin Nature trail is located in a region where islands of Sparta Sand sit atop layers of finer marine sediments called the Weches formation.  Sparta is recognizable as a deep sand layer atop hills. The Weches formation in this area is identified by steeper slopes with iron ore rocks and boulders. The transition between the two is marked by a thin outcrop of shaley brown clay and lignite that is visible on the hillside behind the campus. This brown shale deposit formed in shallow swamps and has fossil leaf impressions at another outcrop west of Hawkins,Texas on Highway 80.


Conditions during the Eocene period, approximately 45 million years ago, determined the lay of the land and flow of the water in Hawkins. The Weches represents a marine transgression over the land. Most of East Texas was covered by a shallow warm extension of the Gulf of Mexico. Sandyhills of the Sparta Formation buried the Weches under beaches and barrier islands when the sea retreated. Subsequent erosion has left areas of Wood, Smith and CherokeeCounties speckled with island-like remnants of the Weches/Sparta where sandy hills overlay dense and nutrient rich layers derived from marine mud. Areas of this deep loose sand are extensive in Eastern Wood County.


The sandylands have been long recognized. One early Wood County settler, John Haines Newsome, recorded in his diary how the poor dry sands worried new immigrants. He expressed relief when he arrived at Quitman in 1859 having passed through “that everlasting bed of sand”.


The City of Tyler sits on a large expanse of this geology. A prime example, familiar to many drivers, is the Loves Lookout area between Tyler and Jacksonville. Vertical relief is not so dramatic inWoodCounty, but the effect on plants and animals is similar. Rainwater falls on sandyland plants like yuccas, prickly-pear and sand jack oak. It rapidly passes through the sugary sand and then flows along the top of the impervious Weches rock. As it does do chemical changes occur.


  • The Weches and other similar rocks have been used for low-grade fertilizer or soil amendments in the past. Dr. Ernest Ledger, ofNacogdoches, has made the following analysis at one locality.
    • Potassium 1.36% weight
    • Boron 100ppm
    • Calcium 8%
    • Iron 19%
    • Phosphorous as P2O5 1700ppm
    • 8.1 reaction pH
    • Zinc 253ppm
Figure 2

Figure 2: Islands of Sparta Sand sitting atop Weches glauconite are circled on the Geologic Atlas of Texas. The Sabine River flows across the top of the circle and separate the Hawkins patch from a larger Tyler/Jacksonville patch. 

Figure 3

Figure 3: The Goodwin Nature Trail, indicated by an arrow, occupies mostly Sparta Sand hills (Es) underlain by impermeable and nutrient rich Weches glauconite. South of Hawkins the Sabine Riverbottom alluvial soils extend for many miles to the east and west. These soils extend up Rogers Creek just east of the Jarvis campus. Even though Weches is not shown outcropping along Rogers Creek, small unmapped outcrops do occur and its effect on groundwater in the overlying Sparta is important. Circles indicate oil and gas wells tapping the Hawkins salt dome deep underground. Source: Geological Atlas of Texas, Bureau of Economic Geology, University of Texas accessible at:

Different Habitats



I a. Deep Sparta Sand

After you leave the pavilion you pass through a good example of this community. It is characterized by sassafrass, dogwoods, bluejack oak (Quercus incana), red oak (Quercus falcata), blackjack oak (Quercus marylandica), post oak (Quercus stellata), shortleaf pine (Pinus echinata), palmetto (Sabal minor) and yucca (Yucca louisianensis).

Figure 4. Pictured here is the state champion bluejack oak in flower in late March. WBG March 26, 2011.

Higher areas of the Sparta Sand are characterized by bluejack oak (Quercus incana), shortleaf pine (Pinus echinata) and dogwood (Cornus florida).


I b. Sparta Sand Barrens


In some areas the Sparta Sand is deeper and more desert-like. These areas are less common and may be related to disturbance. They are characterized by dense populations of species like the harvester ant (Pogonomyrmex commanche) and the Sand Spike Moss (Selaginella arenicola).

Figure 5: Colony of harvester ants (Pogonomyrmex commanche) in the deeper, more friable areas of Sparta Sand.
Figure 6: Selaginella arenicola is characteristic of the sandy barrens. WBG photo 26 March 2011
Figure 7: Sand Jack or Bluejack oak (Quercus incana) is characteristic of deep sands. It blooms in mid to late March. WBG March 26/2010.
Figure 8: Southern wax myrtle (Myrica cerifera) is a good indicator of the presence of groundwater.

II. Mesic hillside just above Weches aquatard

An aquatard is an impervious layer that forces groundwater to emerge on the surface when intersected by a slope. Although it may be difficult to see the boundary between Sparta and Weches, several plant species indicate the transition. Primary among these is the wax myrtle (Myrica cerifera). This shrub always indicates the presence of groundwater. Stands of chinquapins (Castanea pumila) also occur here. Palmetto (Sabal minor) is also more common. Water from the Sparta/Weches contact is unusual and has been studied by E. Ledger. He says iron is a dominant component of the water chemistry. The Weches contribution to groundwater may be an important factor influencing the plant community at this interface. 

Figure 9: The Allegheny chinquapin (Castanea pumila) is a fairly rare shrub or small tree that is a close relative of the practically extinct American chestnut. These occur along the trail in small groves near where the sandy upland transitions to seeps.
Figure 10: In some areas of San Augustine County Weches slopes support rich mesic forest with a strong beech (Fagus grandifolia) component. WBG photo.
Figure 11: Mayapples (Podophyllum peltatum) form colonies in the uplands and forested slopes. They pop-up in early March and are blooming by late March.
Figure 12: Pitcher plants, like these growing in Angelina County, are known from Sparta Sand seeps just north of Hawkins at Soutendijk Bog in Quitman. They are a plant to be on the lookout-for. WBG photo at Upland Island Wilderness Area.

III. Bogs and Herbaceous Seeps


Mostly herbaceous with willow and alder encroaching. Some are quaking. Herbaceous seeps in power line right-of-way appear to be the best quality. The trail does not pass through any of these areas because of their sensitive and fragile nature. Walking through and disturbing them is discouraged.

Thorough inventory of the plants in herbaceous seeps is a high priority for the ETNHC. Beginning in Spring 2011 botanists from Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the Botanical Research Institute of Texas will begin inventory work. The carnivorous pitcher plant (Sarracenia alata) may possibly be found near the Goodwin Nature trail. About one hundred miles south in Robertson and Leon Counties seepages in the Sparta Sand support extensive pitcher plant bogs. In 2003, pitcherplants were found about ten miles to the north of Hawkins in seepages near Lake Lydia.


IV. Baygalls


These forested seeps are dominated by red maple (Acer rubrum) and American hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana). Also present are: Magnolia virginiana, hazel alder (Alnus serrulata), sweetleaf (Symplocos tinctoria),Swamp dogwood (Cornus foemina) and American holly (Ilex opaca). Waist-high cinnamon ferns (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum) and royal ferns (Osmunda regalis) dominate the herbaceous layer in places. The cinnamon ferns were also placed in genus Osmunda until new research in 2008 caused them to be placed in a new genus.

Figure 13: The boardwalk passes through baygall habitat at its northern end. The area is dominated by red maple (Acer rubrum). Sweetbay magnolia (Magnolia virginiana) is a minor component.
Figure 14: Sweetbay magnolia (Magnolia virginiana) is characteristic of the baygall forested seeps.
Figure 15: American holly (Ilex opaca) is a common species in the baygall areas and along Rogers Creek.
Figure 16: Red Maple (Acer rubrum) is one of the first plants to bloom in spring. Red flowers begin opening in mid February and by March the winged seeds, called samaras, are falling.
Figure 17: Recorded range of the sweetbay magnolia (Magnolia virginiana).
Figure 18: Royal fern (Osmunda regalis) is a common component of the baygall community.
Figure 19: Southern wild rice (Zizanopsis milacea) dominates marshy areas along Rogers Creek. WBG

V. Alder swamp


Alders and willows are encroaching on the marshy habitats near to teh Goodwin Nature Trail.


VI. Southern Wild Rice Dominated Marsh


The best place to view this plant community is on the “T” shaped observation deck near the artesian well. Rogers Creek becomes lost in this kind of marsh below Jarvis and another god view of it is available where Highway 80 crosses Rogers Creek just east of Hawkins.


VII. Riparian Bottomland Hardwoods

Figure 20: Riparian forest along Rogers Creek is dominated by water oak (Quercus nigra) and river birch (Betula nigra). Arundinaria gigantea is a native bamboo that is common in the understory.
Figure 21: Some areas along Rogers Creek are flat backwaters with swamp dominated by green ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanicus) and willow (Salix nigra).

VIII. Fraxinus/Salix Swamp


 Not accessible from the trail. This area needs more investigation.


Figure 22: Saline barrens associated with salt domes often have rare and disjunct plants growing in their harsh conditions. Often they support the only inland populations of coastal species.

IX. Saline Glade


Outcrops of naturally saline soil occur throughout East Texas and are often related to the geology of salt domes. Very often these glades have a distinctive flora of tiny plants that are adapted to the unusual conditions. The Jarvis glade is about one acre of baren soil surrounded by a ring of vegetation. It is akin to similar glades at Grand Saline and others farther south in the Angelina National Forest where glades occur on the Catahoula Formation.

Most are tiny and limited to discrete areas around the edge where harsh conditions limit competition. Botanists like Jason Singhurst, of Texas Parks and Wildlife, must do the salt glade crawl to identify the tiny plants. WBG photo 24/March/2011.

Figure 23: Large iron ore boulders mark the Weches Formation slope. These are similar to terrain occurring at the nearby Tyler State Park. WBG photo 24/March/2011.

X. Weches Formation Slope Forest


Large iron ore boulders and a steep slope indicate the outcrop of Weches formation in the area where the trail passes the old hog barns. The area has higher than normal concentration of black cherry trees (Prunus serotina). The Adder's tongue fern (Ophioglossum engelmani) also grows here at the base of the hill in Spring.

Figure 24: Adder’s Tongue (Ophioglossum engelmanii) is not immediately recognizable as a fern when first encountered. It dominates the vernal flora at the base of the boulder strewn Weches slope near the southern limit of the trail.

Look for it in March, before the canopy has leafed out and shaded the forest floor. WBG photo 24 March 2011.

Figure 25: Boardwalk under construction.

Partner Sites Near Hawkins


Within easy distance of Hawkins, Texas a wide variety of specialized habitat types occur. Many of these are permanent study sites for the ETNC researchers through cooperative agreements with the owners or managers.


Daphne Prairie

Virgin prairie with associated mima mounds

Salesmanship Youth Camp 1400 acres

Weches forest

Weches glades

Bottomland hardwoods along Lake Fork Creek

Clements Ranch

Queen City Sand barrens*



Soutendijk Bog and associated Sparta Sands


This is the north-most occurrence of Sarracenia alata in Texas. The hillside seepage is dominated by Nyssa sylvatica and Acer rubrum. Native azaleas dominate the understory. Nearby are floristically diverse examples of the Xeric sandylands* with healthy populations of harvester ants (Pogonomyrmex commanche) and Stillingia texana.


Grand Saline salt marsh


One of the largest inland salt marshes in the country sits atop the Grand Saline salt dome where dissolution of the Jurassic salt has collapsed a dome.


West End Preserve


Very little bottomland hardwoods forest remains on Little Cypress Bayou which is the headwaters of Caddo Lake. The Franklin County Historical Association has a 400 acre preserve here that holds marshes, Quaking bogs and springs at the base of xeric Carrizo sandhills*. High quality bottomland hardwood forest makes-up the balance of the site.


Sand Caves


These rare phenomena occur in Panola, Shelby and Nacogdoches Counties less than 100 miles to the South. These sites also provide access to beech/magnolia ravines and Carrizo Sand outcrops*


Godwin Woods


Weches slope with national champion Nyssa sylvatica

More old growth bottomland hardwoods.


*Sandylands occur on three different formations in East Texas. The Carrizo, Queen City and Sparta Sands each have slightly different qualities and floras. ETNC has purposefully sought out permanent access to sites on all three formations.


History of the Trail Development


In 2008 Dr. James Goodwin of Jarvis applied for a grant from the National Recreational Trails Fund administered by Texas Parks and Wildlife under the approval of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). This federally funded program is funded from a portion of federal gas taxes.


The grant funded construction of 1,800 feet of elevated boardwalk through wetlands, 8,000 feet of gravel paths through the forest and a pavilion to support trail associated education activities. The boardwalk and pavilion were built by Skillern Construction Company of Nacogdoches, Texas in December 2010 and January 2011.


The gravel portions of the trail were built by American YouthWorks of Austin, Texas between January and March, 2011. Native crushed iron ore from Palestine, Texas was used for the trail.

Figure 25: Anthony Ray Wallace, of Nacogdoches, did much of the construction work.
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