The BigWoods on the Trinity
By: Leopold Conservation Award Program
Dr. Robert McFarlane spent his youth hunting and fishing the lands and waters of the Middle Trinity River near Tennessee Colony. Those memories of the land stayed with him when he left for medical school at Harvard. When he returned, he saw a different landscape. It was fragmented, converted to pasture and farmland, and significantly different from the pristine land he remembered.
Determined to return the land to its former glory, Dr. McFarlane purchased the first 1,500 acres of BigWoods on the Trinity in 1995. Today, he has expanded that to 7,500 acres composed of bottomland hardwood, nearly 2,500 acres of restored savanna and a total of 25 different wetlands spanning 500 acres.
The main conservation emphasis at BigWoods is emergent wetland and bottomland hardwood restoration and management. The wetlands are intensively managed to attract waterfowl and wetland-dependent bird species, and the filtration capabilities of the vegetation has vastly improved water quality.
To defray maintenance costs and increase long-term sustainability, Dr. McFarlane created a wetland mitigation bank and established a commercial hunting operation. The mitigation bank generates income from payments made for offsetting negative environmental impacts to water. The hunting operation generates substantial income due to the significant interest in hunting the waterfowl, deer and feral hogs.
The exceptional bird attraction to the land makes BigWoods a premier spot for birding, and it’s cited as one of the best places in Texas to view colorful neotropical migratory birds. Although quail and turkey are not yet frequent visitors, Dr. McFarlane is working to implement practices that will draw both species to the property.
An avid contributor to his community, Dr. McFarlane has hosted several tours and events at BigWoods to demonstrate the importance of conservation. He recently opened his doors to allow 25 high school kids stay for six days to learn about waterfowl biology and conservation management.
It’s clear that this land made an early impression on Dr. McFarlane. Thanks to his love for the land and his passion for stewardship, children and adults alike have the opportunity to create their own unforgettable memories of the Trinity River.