Since the 1930s, Wise County has been home to a precious natural resource – but it’s somewhat of a secret.
The Lyndon B. Johnson National Grasslands cover more than 20,000 of Wise County’s northeastern acres, offering the public a place to fish, camp, picnic, hike, ride horses and hunt. The grasslands, part of the Caddo/LBJ National Grasslands, have been managed by the USDA Forest Service since the 1950s, and a campaign starting in the mid-1990s has made the area a safe haven for families to spend quality time.
The Caddo portion of the grasslands is located northeast of Dallas and contains 17,785 acres. It is open to the public 24 hours a day, seven days a week, year round.
The grasslands offer a variety of outdoor activities, from fishing and hunting to hiking and horseback riding. The LBJ National Grasslands include a 75-mile, multi-use trail that is frequented by equestrian groups.
Hunters can find whitetail deer, Rio Grande turkey and small game such as rabbits, squirrel and a few quail. The use of shotguns, excluding slugs and buckshot, is allowed for legally hunting game birds and animals during state designated seasons. Search the Texas Parks and Wildlife website at www.tpwd.state.tx.us for hunting season information.
Skeet shooters can enjoy a place all their own at Unit 3 on the west side of U.S. 81/287 – it’s the only place in the grasslands where any type of target shooting is allowed.
While much of the acreage is open to hunters, families looking for a place to picnic and camp can venture out to the popular Black Creek Lake or Cottonwood Lake.
There are about 450 ponds and lakes ranging from small ponds to the 45-acre Cottonwood Lake.
While Cottonwood has one improved boat ramp, there are no recreation facilities. But Black Creek Lake provides restroom facilities, seven picnic units, seven walk-in camp units, a boat ramp and a fishing bridge. A four-mile trail connects the two lakes. The 10-acre Windmill Lake north of Alvord is designated for fly fishing only.
TADRA point is a popular place for equine enthusiasts, with restrooms and parking facilities and access to the 75-mile multi-use trailhead.
There is also a unit in the grasslands designated for dog training and events.
Park fees range from $2 at Black Creek for day-use to $4 at TADRA point and Valley View group use facility. There are self-service pay sites at those locations. Everywhere else is free.
Fees collected are used to pay for maintenance.
A visit to the Ranger District Office, located at 1400 U.S. 81/287 North, will provide a visitor with much more information. The office is open Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
For more information, visit www.fs.fed.us and search for the LBJ Grasslands.
The Lyndon B. Johnson National Grasslands is the most southern of the national grasslands covering 17,784 acres.
The original occupants of the land were the Caddo Indians who were forced out in the mid-1700s by Apache and Comanche tribes. In the 1800s, European settlers moved into the area followed by farmers.
The area was designated as “grasslands” in the 1800s under the Homestead Act that helped settle western land.
In the 1920s and ’30s, the land received very little rain, causing the soil to dry up and blow away. Congress established the Land Utilization Program (LUP), which bought land from bankrupt land owners and made it public.
LUP lands were given to the USDA Forest Service in the 1950s. Twenty national grasslands exist around the nation.
Unlike its current landscape, the LBJ Grasslands were covered with dense lines of trees that ran north to south rather than along rivers. It became known as “Cross Timbers,” giving way to the Cross Timbers National Grasslands. It was renamed in 1974 after President Lyndon Baines Johnson.