If you are traveling to Chambers County from the Houston area or further west, your first real chance to taste the joys of our natural environment is the J.J. Mayes Wildlife Trace, tucked quietly in the shadow of the Trinity River Bridge. This site is managed by the U.S.
Army Corps of Engineers.
Before you hop on the bridge, take Exit 805 and on your right will be the entrance to the driving trail. Right away you will find a breathtaking grove of century oaks with low-arching, vine-covered branches. A perfect line of these beauties and a couple of remnant cow pens are all that is left marking the homestead of J.J. Mayes, according to Kevin Ladd, the director of the Wallisville Heritage Park. The trees likely would have been planted around 1850 when Mayes built his home there for his new bride.
I believe this to be the most wonderful public picnic site in the county. A trail winds around under the shadow of these trees to a dozen separate picnic tables and grills. You can relax in the shade of giants that have weathered both the 1900 and 1915 storms, as well as hurricanes Carla and Ike, and let the wind through their leaves tell you of all the things they have seen. No reservations required.
From here, the driving trail goes back about 4 miles into the grassy marsh, ending at the Trinity River, directly across from the Trinity River Island Recreation Center and the locks. The beauty of this entire site is its simplicity. There is no visitor center, no educational signs, and no gift shop. The quiet and the marsh and the sky are all there for you to hike, sit, or even just slow drive and take in.
About halfway down the trail, you can pull over and walk onto a boardwalk that goes to the river’s edge then makes a wide loop before taking you back to your car. One thing that there is no shortage of in Chambers County, other than good fishing, good birding, and good hunting, is great boardwalks! This one is no exception.
Walking above the marsh grasses, I flushed a least bittern, which craned is awkwardly long neck as it flew away out of camera range. Minnows made plopping sounds as they darted in the shallow waters below. Pathways burrowing through the grasses conjured images of a busy raccoon highway they likely become around dusk. Trees line the river’s edge, and the boardwalk opens up into a viewing platform. Take a seat at the benches under a cypress tree and soak up the sights and sounds of the muddy Trinity.
From here the trail turns back and follows the river. Along the way there are rest stops provided by J. Howell of Boy Scouts of America Troop 209 as part of his Eagle Scout project, according the plaques on the benches.
Note: This is a moderate walk. If you want to make it easier, you can cut out the loop by turning back after you stop at the river platform.
Just past this trail, there is another viewing platform that looks out over the expanse of grasses. It was at this point that I wished I would have remembered my binoculars. Don’t forget yours! Other items that would come in handy are bug spray and sunscreen.
At the end of the drive, across the river from the Wallisville Locks Visitor Center, there is a restroom area if you need to make a quick stop before heading back to the highway and driving deeper into Chambers County.
For driving directions and more Chambers County trip destinations, click