As families throughout Cherokee County prepare for Spring Break, observed March 11to15 by local public schools, there are a number of free or inexpensive fun things to do in the area.
Caddo Mounds State Historic Site and Mission Tejas State Park – located along Texas Highway 21 West, outside of Alto – are favorites of Jacksonville resident Wendy Emprimo.
“We enjoyed going to Caddo Mounds/Museum and Mission Tejas, because they're educational as well as fun,” she said. “You can picnic and hike at Mission Tejas; there are great photography opportunities, and (as long as the weather cooperates) it's a great way to spend time outdoors.”
The historic site “is a prehistoric village and ceremonial center located on the original El Camino Real de los Tejas,” offering interpretive trails along which visitors can discover a grass house, mounds, burial pit and an a piece of the original road, according to http://www.thc.texas.gov.
The site also features a visitor center and museum that highlight Caddo village life as it existed approximately 1,200 years ago in East Texas. Hours are from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday; cost is $4 adults and $3 seniors, fre for children ages five and younger. Group and family rates also are offered. To learn more, contact 936-858-3218.
Built in 1934 by the Civilian Conservation Corps as a commemorative representation of Mission San Francisco de los Tejas, the first Spanish mission in the Province of Texas (established in 1690), Mission Tejas State Park is located six miles west of Caddo Mounds.
Visitors can enjoy a number of activities: Camping, picnicking, hiking, fishing and – like Caddo Mounds – programs offered by staff or guest presenters.
The park is also the site of a restored log home once owned by the Rice family. It is one of the oldest structures in the area, serving as a stop over for “immigrants, adventurers and local residents traveling the Old San Antonio Road across pioneer Texas,” according to https://tpwd.texas.gov. The park is open daily from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., with a $3 fee for visitors ages 13 and older. It also offers campsites, including full hook-ups for RVs. For more information, call 936-687-2394.
Families interested in camping and fishing have other options available.
Lake Jacksonville offers 1,325 acres of water, according to www.jacksonvilletx.org. The city park has three boat ramps, allowing visitors the option to fish from the lake or bankside, along with screened shelters, along with camping sites and RV pads with water and electricity for those who wish to make an overnight stay. Camping reservations may be made by calling 903-589-3510 or by using the site's online reservation system.
Lake Striker Reservoir, a 1,863-acre lake located 20 miles east of Jacksonville, is home to Lake Striker Resort, located at 18560 County Road 4256 South in Reklaw. Visitors can fish from banks or from a covered pier for $3 per day. There's a boat launch, and the $5 daily boat fee waives the fishing fee. The resort also has various lodging options (motel rooms, cabins, tent campsites and RV hook-ups), along with an onsite restaurant open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. Lodging fees may be found at www.lakestrikerresort.com; for more information, call 903-854-2505.
Anglers must have a license to fish in the state of Texas, although none is needed if wetting a a line at any of the state's parks, according to Texas Parks & Wildlife Department. Some of the parks offer limited amounts of fishing gear for use; however, entry fees are not waived.
Along with Mission Tejas, area state parks include Tyler State Park (which also offers camping, hiking and other activities) and Martin Creek State Park in Tatum (the home of many winter fishing tournaments). More information about these two sites may be found at www.tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks.
Looking for a day of unstructured fun? There are a number of parks in the area that don't charge for use.
In Jacksonville, there are more than 200 acres of park property operated by the city. Folks can play disc golf at Nichols Green II or enjoy new playground equipment at Buckner and Lincoln parks, while the Stacy D. Hunter Recreation Center, at 903 Peeples St., is open Monday through Thursday, as well as Saturday, from noon to 8 p.m. The center has a large indoor facility, with a basketball court, fenced-in soccer field and a playground outside. A more complete list of parks and what they offer can be found at /www.jacksonvilletx.org.
Bullard Kids Park, located at 510 N. Rather St., is an enclosed playscape with nearby restrooms, picnic tables/areas, a pavilion and grill. The facilities can be reserved for two-hour blocks, with fees charged for non-resident rentals. Contact city hall, 903-894-7223 extension 101, for more information.
In Rusk, the 178-acre Jim Hogg State Park, operated by the City of Rusk and located at 334 Fire Tower Rd., is a memorial to the state's first native-born governor. According to www.stateparks.com, “visitors can enjoy wildlife observations and photography of birds, squirrels, and deer on occasion. You can also experience a great variety of trees and shrubs native to East Texas.”
Museum visits are another favorite pastime, and there are several in the area worth checking out. Admission varies at each site.
The Vanishing Texana Museum in Jacksonville, 302 S. Bolton St., displays various artifacts representing the history of Texas and Cherokee County. Museum curator Larry Lydick pens a weekly column, “Mysteries at your Museum,” offering the back story to items at the free museum. Visit www.jacksonvillelibrary.com to learn more. Hours are from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday through Saturday.
Bullard's American Freedom Museum is just a few blocks from the city's downtown, located on the campus of The Brook Hill School, at 22350 FM 2493. The 15,000-square-foot museum houses galleries showcasing a collection of 700 artifacts and documents about the nation’s history, including a Hall of Presidents and a Hall of Freedom. A second museum there, the Bullard History Museum located downtown, offers visitors a glimpse into the city's past. Learn more at www.east-texas.com.
The Heritage Center of Cherokee County, Texas, located just off the courthouse square in Rusk, showcases the county's history from the early 1800s to the 1960s. It's open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, and from 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays; for weekday appointments, call 903-714-8685.
Local libraries also are a great resource for activities. Along with books, most libraries offer programs to please their patrons. More events may be found online on libraries' respective websites and Facebook pages as the break nears.
The Jacksonville Public Library will kick off Spring break with a 2 p.m. movie matinee, along with its regularly scheduled 5 p.m. teen time on March 11. Its traditional Wednesday fare – 10:30 a.m. story time and 4:30 p.m. kid corner/family maker space activities – will be offered as well during the break.
The Bullard Community Library, open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, along with 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday, has slated a 10:30 a.m. story time, followed by a 1:30 p.m. movie afternoon on Thursday, March 14.
Other libraries in Cherokee County include the Rusk Public Library, the Cameron-J. Jarvis Troup Municipal Library in Troup, Wells' Rube Session Memorial Library and the Stella Hill Memorial Library in Alto.
A few other places or events of interest include:
• A performance of “Wind in the Willows,” 2 p.m. Saturday, March 9, at ArtsView Children's Theatre, 313 W. Tyler St. in Longview, www.artsviewchildrenstheatre.com
• East Texas Oil Museum, open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m Wednesday through Saturday, https://easttexasoilmuseum.kilgore.edu
• Cherokee Trace Drive-Thru Safari, 1200 County Road 4405, Jacksonville, www.cherokeetrace.com
• Texas State Railroad Depot, a historic 25-mile railroad between Rusk and Palestine, https://texasstaterailroad.net
• Caldwell Zoo in Tyler, https://caldwellzoo.org
• Adrenaline Rush Zip Line, Rusk, www.daretozip.com
• Skateland USA, 2050 S. Jackson St., www.myskatelandusa.com
• Highland Lanes Bowling & Fun Center, US Highway 69, south of Jacksonville
• Jackson Cinema 3 in Jacksonville will offer four showings a day during Spring Break.