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Conservationists, Texas Department of Transportation Announce Public Meeting on Big Thicket Protections

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BEAUMONT, Texas -- Today, a coalition of local, state and national conservation groups including the National Parks Conservation Association, Big Thicket Association, Big Thicket Natural Heritage Trust, The Conservation Fund, The Nature Conservancy, The Big Thicket Biosphere Reserve and Texas Conservation Alliance, are proud to announce a public meeting with the Texas Department of Transportation regarding protections for the Big Thicket National Preserve Parkway amid highway expansion.

For months, Big Thicket advocates have participated in productive conversations with the Texas Department of Transportation on how to limit the impacts of highway expansion adjacent to this national park site, surrounding communities and along the scenic Big Thicket National Preserve Parkway which thousands of park visitors and community members use every year.

We are encouraged by our progress and TxDOT’s willingness to make changes. TxDOT agreed to hold a public meeting to inform communities of potential positive changes to the highway expansion plan and listen to concerns and receive comments.

TxDOT will speak on new changes to the US 69 Gateway to the Big Thicket Project, such as decreases in tree removal acreage and minimized impacts of highway expansion, including planting native plants in areas where tree removal is necessary.

Earlier this year, TxDOT officials in Beaumont revealed plans to remove up to more than an additional one hundred acres of trees along the Big Thicket National Preserve Parkway (part of US Highway 69). This was a significant departure from previous versions of the highway expansion, alarming conservationists and community members who were not consulted on the decision. The changes, made to improve road safety for motorists, would have substantial impacts to the area.

Now, thanks to the advocacy of friends and neighbors in the Thicket, TxDOT has had an opportunity to work with conservationists to improve the plans. The National Parks Conservation Association and partners look forward to robust community engagement at the following meeting:

September 26th at 5:30PM

Hardin County Courthouse

300 West Monroe Street Kountze, Texas

Statement of Erika Pelletier, Texas Associate Director for the National Parks Conservation Association:

 Texans show up for their national parks and communities. This promising news from TxDOT is a testament to the grit and fortitude of advocates and neighbors who raised their voices for the national park site in their backyard, Big Thicket National Preserve.

“We are encouraged by our conversations with leaders at the Texas Department of Transportation and we are grateful for their perspective. We know that their number one priority is creating a safer Big Thicket region for all and we share that vision. We know there is still so much more work to be done, and we encourage anyone with concerns about the project to bring them to this public meeting. No concern is too small.

“There is only one Big Thicket, but our one Big Thicket is so many things to so many people. It’s a biological crossroads, a natural wonder of the world. It’s a scenic drive, a hiker’s paradise, and a local jewel that friends and neighbors have worked to protect for generations. If we want the next generation to enjoy this national park site just as much as we have, we have to keep showing up for the Thicket every single time.”

 Statement of Ellen Buchanan, President of Big Thicket Natural Heritage Trust:

 “We are thankful for citizens who appreciate the Big Thicket and the rural character, nature, and biodiversity of our region and who spoke up to protect these resources. We are equally thankful for Congressman Babin, Senator Nichols, Representative Bailes and Representative Ashby for listening to us and bringing us to the table with TxDOT. We look forward to a productive relationship with TxDOT to highlight and protect our Big Thicket resources while providing safe roadways for the public.

Statement of Mary Bernard, Executive Director, Big Thicket Biosphere Reserve:

 “For years, our coalition of Southeast Texas conservationists and volunteers have urged the Texas Department of Transportation not to clearcut miles of trees along the Big Thicket National Preserve Parkway in the name of highway expansion. The state agency’s recent announcement that they would reduce the number of trees chopped down and plant native grasses in the project area gives us hope for the future of the Big Thicket. The Biosphere looks forward to seeing more affirmative steps towards conserving this invaluable natural resource as project planning continues.”

 Statement of Diane Thompson, Executive Director, Big Thicket Association:

Big Thicket Association is pleased with the cooperation from TxDOT to save the trees on Highway 69, plant native plants where tree removal is necessary, and to finally hold a public meeting to review changes and hear the public’s comments on this project. We look forward with great anticipation to this upcoming public meeting.

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