The first Anglo settlers of Walker County were Pleasant and Ephraim Gray, who arrived in the area around 1834. They opened a trading post with the neighboring Bidai Indians, and named the village that developed around them after Pleasant’s former home in Huntsville, Alabama.
The land that is now CBFS was originally deeded by the State of Texas to Benson Resinhoover in 1845. In the early years a mill was built on Harmon Creek, which bisects the property. Land use included timber and cotton production as well as farming. Ownership changed over time.
On February 4, 1931, the Gibbs brothers gave the land to the state for the construction of the Huntsville State Fish Hatchery. In the 1960s, the hatchery produced about one-third of the bass fingerlings released in Texas lakes.
Water for the facility was provided by gravity flow from a nine-acre storage lake formed by damming Harmon Creek. The facility was closed in 1986 when the dam was destroyed by a flood. A redevelopment plan was canceled after an archeological survey, in 1994, suggested that the proposed actions would impact historic and prehistoric cultural resources. Also, a biological survey found nesting red-cockaded woodpeckers, a federally endangered species, nesting on the property.
On November 3, 1995, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and Sam Houston State University entered into a Memorandum of Understanding to collaborate in the creation of an “Outdoor Center for Environmental Field Studies” on the site of the closed fish hatchery. SHSU was charged with the maintenance of habitat for red-cockaded woodpeckers, neotropical migrants and wintering sparrows, indigenous mammals, wintering and migratory waterfowl and shorebirds, reptile and amphibian breeding sites, and other forms and types of animal species, vegetation , and/or organisms as deemed fit.
The university also agreed to participate in providing educational tours and information, biological instruction and studies, ecological demonstrations to students and the general public, general support to ecological research and studies, and appropriate support for the other studies and activities mutually agreed upon.
On March 19, 2001, the State of Texas granted the land to Sam Houston State University under the condition that it will “preserve and protect the archeological, natural, and scenic resources of the Property in accordance with state law and prevent any use of the property that will significantly impair or interfere with the educational or recreational use of the Property. Management of the Property shall be consistent with protection of high quality habitat…”
Building and Maintaining a Legacy Forest
An important part of promoting stewardship is practicing stewardship. CBFS is incorporating all available knowledge on and our accumulated experience to promote and preserve a living model of the East Texas Pineywoods forest. We are carefully documenting the rationale, methods, and outcomes of our management practices. The goal is to maximize diversity and abundance of the life forms that are found in the ecoregion, while promoting human interactions. The Bearkat Forest will be a place where land owners and managers can come to experience what can be done to sustain the natural areas of East Texas.
- Restoration of the Shortleaf Pine/Savannah habitat
- Conversion of marginal old field habitat into Blackland Prairie
- Increasing the amount of ephemeral wetland
- Mapping and bioinventory of habitat types on the property
- Research of historical local flora and fauna with contemplation of reintroductions
- Research on minimizing the footprint of infrastructure development
- Removal of unnecessary infrastructure and trash from the past