The state’s longest trail runs in North Texas. And it could soon become a state park

By | March 12, 2024

The 133-mile Northeast Texas Trail is loved by cyclists, runners and hikers, who say the route is a slice of paradise and a rare gem. The trail, which is the longest in Texas, was developed with the help of grants and is maintained largely by volunteers – which has left some sections nearly impassable due to overgrown vegetation and collapsed bridges.

Under an early-stage plan, the NETT could be converted into a linear state park and added to the state parks system. And if the site is maintained by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, some trail users hope, it could mean a better-maintained and more accessible trail.

Trail users who spoke to the Star-Telegram were especially excited about the opportunity, both for the potential improvements and the potential economic benefits for the municipalities the Nett passes through.

Marlys Armstrong, a cyclist and organizer of the group Dallas Pedals & Pints, said she rarely rides the NETT because of its haphazard maintenance. But if the trail were to become a state park, she thinks it could become “a cross-country attraction.”


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It’s not clear how likely it is that the Nett will be added to the state parks system. Currently, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is commissioning a feasibility study to evaluate legal and logistical requirements. The process differs slightly from other state park formations because the NETT is already a functioning trail owned by a grouping of five cities, two nonprofits and one county. Each entity owns and operates a portion of the trail, which is built on decommissioned rail lines.

Because of that setup, the Parks and Wildlife Department wouldn’t have to deal with some of the thorny issues of acquiring future parkland from a private owner — meaning this wouldn’t be a repeat of the department’s ill-fated attempt to acquire Fairfield. Lake State Park from a private developer. But there are a lot of other details the department needs to figure out before the trail can become a park.

Cyclists and other trail users are hopeful.

“My conclusion is: this is something that is good for the region, for its health, its community and its finances,” Armstrong said.

In this photo from spring 2022, Paul Rust and Tod Douglas ride on a paved section of the Northeast Texas Trail, between Paris and Blossom.  The NETT has a wide variety of trail conditions over its 213 mile length.

In this photo from spring 2022, Paul Rust and Tod Douglas ride on a paved section of the Northeast Texas Trail, between Paris and Blossom. The NETT has a wide variety of trail conditions over its 213 mile length.

An early phase plan

The NETT’s western route is in the small town of Farmersville, Collin County.

The city owns the first 13 miles of the trail and has been working to develop the route, Mayor Bryon Wiebold said, including paving the first three miles.

The trail is the city’s “number one attraction,” Wiebold said, and the community as a whole is “very pro-trail.”

From Farmersville, the route heads east through a series of municipalities and counties and ends in the town of New Boston, about 20 miles from Texarkana.

The trail gets rougher the further east you go, users say. And although there are other paved sections, including near the city of Paris, the path sometimes runs over worn bridges and through dense vegetation. Some parts of the trail can become large mud puddles, making it difficult (or dangerous) to navigate.

Tod Douglas and Paul Rust navigate around a fallen tree on the Northeast Texas Trail, between Celeste and Wolfe City, during a spring 2022 bike ride.Tod Douglas and Paul Rust navigate around a fallen tree on the Northeast Texas Trail, between Celeste and Wolfe City, during a spring 2022 bike ride.

Tod Douglas and Paul Rust navigate around a fallen tree on the Northeast Texas Trail, between Celeste and Wolfe City, during a spring 2022 bike ride.

Kelly Whitley, the president of the NorthEast Texas Trail Coalition, said members of the organization and other users have hoped for years that the trail would be picked up by the Parks and Wildlife Department. While the coalition and its partners have done the work to develop the trail, she said, maintenance is a whole different story. And it’s a beast that is often not taken into account in the grants used to develop the trail so far.

“We may not have a lot of money, but we have all the passion,” Whitley said. “We want to bring this matter to a successful conclusion.”

Wiebold — who also sits on the board of the NorthEast Texas Trail Coalition as Farmersville’s representative — said he hasn’t yet formed an opinion on the linear state park idea. He’s not opposed to it, he said, but he still has many questions, including logistical questions such as whether the Parks and Wildlife Department would charge a fee to access the trail.

“Our question is, ‘How is that all going to work out?’” Wiebold said. “We are not against it, we just don’t know what it is at the moment. So a number of questions need to be answered.”

JJ Fleury — the director of Texas State Parks’ Planning and Geospatial Resources Program — said it’s too early to say when the department will decide how to move forward with the Nett. The feasibility study will provide more answers; the department aims to complete that investigation by the end of April, although the deadline could be extended.

Fleury said the department is “pretty excited about that study coming out and seeing the potential for the Nett.”

A ‘little paradise’

For cyclists like Armstrong, converting the NETT into a state park would mean turning Texas’ longest trail into “a real bike path,” one long enough for a real bike-packing trip. It would fill a gap in the region, she said.

There also aren’t many state parks near the Metroplex, which the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department hopes to address in part with the opening of Palo Pinto Mountains State Park, halfway between Fort Worth and Abilene. That park was originally scheduled to open in 2023, but has been postponed.

The NETT could provide another access point to the outdoors for North Texans, especially if the trail were more accessible to a variety of users. And for the communities the Nett already passes through, that extra traffic could mean money-making opportunities.

In this spring 2022 photo, cyclist Jeff Mundt's Salsa Cutthroat gravel bike sits on an old railroad bridge on the Northeast Texas Trail near Wolfe City.  The NETT is the longest trail in Texas, stretching 133 miles from Farmersville to New Boston.In this spring 2022 photo, cyclist Jeff Mundt's Salsa Cutthroat gravel bike sits on an old railroad bridge on the Northeast Texas Trail near Wolfe City.  The NETT is the longest trail in Texas, stretching 133 miles from Farmersville to New Boston.

In this spring 2022 photo, cyclist Jeff Mundt’s Salsa Cutthroat gravel bike sits on an old railroad bridge on the Northeast Texas Trail near Wolfe City. The NETT is the longest trail in Texas, stretching 133 miles from Farmersville to New Boston.

Whitley, the president of the NorthEast Texas Trail Coalition, said a revamped trail could replace some of the revenue small towns lost when the railroad went out. That could take the form of a variety of amenities for overnight cyclists and other trail users, Whitley said, including short-term rentals, convenience stores and grocery stores.

“I think the opportunities for these small towns are only limited by their imagination,” she said.

Although Whitley said the coalition has heard very few complaints or concerns about the potential for a linear state park, some trail users reported rumblings about privacy and safety concerns.

Zina Townley’s estate runs along the trail in the community of Ben Franklin, about 40 miles northeast of the Metroplex. Townley said she worries about what a more trafficked trail would mean, and whether people would venture off the trail onto her property.

But for her, these concerns are outweighed by her desire to share the trail with more people.

“I do have concerns about those kinds of things. I also really enjoy the thought, as a human being… of sharing this little paradise that I have with other people,” Townley said. “I love this little place we have called home.”

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