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Hike, bike trail likely north of Kountze

By F.A. KRIFT, The Enterprise

In trail-deficient Southeast Texas, one mile of new path is a bicycle advocate's coup.

Tell Eric Bender, co-owner of Beaumont's Bicycle Sports, about the Texas Department of Transportation's plans for seven safe, paved and maintained miles above Kountze, and he's excited - not just for his business, but for the recreational sport, too.

"Seven is a start," Bender said.

The state agency is a few months from getting the South East Texas Regional Planning Commission's approval for about $4 million to build a paved bike and hike trail just north of Kountze, Transportation Planning Engineer Steve Stafford said in a telephone conversation.

Two years ago, in preparation for the proposed U.S. 69 corridor, transportation officials listened to numerous requests for a bicycle lane along the new highway. The grass-roots interest, Stafford said, led to a proposed seven-mile path, which could be completed in two years after financial support through the congestion mitigation and air quality program is approved.

"The interest is the reason we're actually moving forward with this," Stafford said.

The design calls for the roughly 10-foot-wide trail to end near the Big Thicket National Preserve visitor's center and meander back and forth between the highway's edge and more natural settings, Stafford speculated.

"It's real nice and a project we've wanted for a long time," Hardin County Judge Billy Caraway said. "We will have people from Beaumont and Port Arthur come up here."

True bike-oriented trails are few and far between in Southeast Texas, Bender said, and that frustrates local enthusiasts. While hard-core riders who bike more than 100 miles a week won't be floored by the path's construction, families and casual riders should rejoice that seven miles are in the works.

"When you talk about a bike enthusiast, people who compete always come to mind, but there are some people who just like riding," Bender said. "Those people are miserable here. They'll come into the shop and say there's no place to ride."

Bender agreed the trail could attract visitors north to the Big Thicket area for a more comfortable, shaded ride.

"It will bring people to Kountze just because there are trails like that up there," he said adding he would venture onto the trail during a long road trip north.
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