NACOGDOCHES, TX (KTRE) - There are times when it's peaceful at the Shawnee landing at the Angelina River in Nacogdoches County. It's the kind of day that brings fishermen out, but ask any regular visitor and they'll talk about being on guard. "Always. I keep pretty close enough so I can keep an eye on my vehicle," said Sam Laurent Jr., after wrapping up a morning of catching bass and crappie. He certainly doesn't bring the family. "People come down here shooting guns, drinking beer. You mix those two together and there's going to be problems," said Laurent.
These are the kind of problems U.S. Forest Service law enforcement officer Jim Freeman knows about from experience. "They're just having a beer party," said Freeman. "I see drugs of different sort from marijuana to more hard drugs, methamphetamine." A high river is filling the erosion left by "muddin". "That's illegal 4 wheelers and heavy duty trucks making trails where ever they please," described Freeman. When the water goes down, the ruts will come to a tall man's waist. Freeman points to a tree where about five feet of the trunk looks nothing like the other trees. "The brown discoloration is not the tree, it's actually mud," said Freeman. "Those big trucks just circle it and circle it throwing mud up everywhere."
At night the illegal activity gets worse. "We've encountered situations where it gets real tense," described Freeman. "When it's dark you don't know whose in those woods." So the U.S. Forest Service wants to make six access points to the Angelina River day-use areas only. The proposal says the area will remain open only from sunrise to sunset except for boat launching. "If they've been on the river, coming back off, that's going to be allowed."
At least one property owner doesn't think that's enough. "Unless they completely close it off, I don't see how it's going to do any good," said Bob McKnight. He owns property adjacent to the Shawnee landing. He's been victimized ten times in the last three years. "They just threw trash," McKnight shows with a picture of his littered property. He's had a tractor stolen. It was recovered when the thieves got it stuck in the river bottom, but it cost him $800 dollars in damages. McKnight had his camp house broken into. Fishing equipment and motors were stolen, so he put up gates to keep people out, but they were stolen too. Mcknight talks about a nearby gas rig site where expensive equipment was vandalized. Mcknight even has newspaper clippings citing the area as a place suspects drank before they were involved in a murder. "It needs supervision all the time or else close it," said McKnighat.
The U.S. Forest Service can't provide 24-7 supervision. The agency has only three law enforcement officers for the Sabine and Angelina National Forests. "We are working with game wardens and county sheriff's department in trying to increase our presence here," said Freeman.
For now the U.S. Forest Service is attempting to keep river access open to law abiding citizens. Written comments regarding this change may be submitted to Eddie Taylor, district ranger, attn: Angelina River Bottom Closure Order, Angelina National Forest, 111 Walnut Ridge, Zavalla, TX 75980. Comments may also be dropped off at the ranger's office during normal business hours of 8 a.m. To 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, or emailed to: