Local Outdoorsmen Rally to Save the Cutoff

In early 2022, a private landowner illegally blocked access to a popular public hunting and fishing destination in East Texas known locally as “The Cutoff”. A group of local sportsmen who hunt and fish there have challenged the move in court, and Texas BHA is rallying behind them.

The Cutoff, also called Creslenn Lake, spans 12 miles along the boundary for Navarro and Henderson Counties. Originally part of the Trinity River, the waterway was separated from its main channel by a levee project in the 1920’s. Historically, users would access the publicly owned water by launching their boats from the former Creslenn Park or FM 1667, a county road with a dedicated right of way.

After a new owner bought the ranch property surrounding The Cutoff in 2019, he promptly and illegally blocked longstanding public access. The landowner used a backhoe to dredge up soil from surrounding banks and extend the land area between the road and the water. He also installed an iron fence to prevent access along FM1667. This construction blatantly violated the project permit issued by Henderson County, disregarded Henderson County’s floodplain ordinance, and potentially violated the Clean Water Act. 

 

https://www.texasstandard.org/stories/east-texas-cutoff-trinity-river-land-dispute/

 

Texans have been fishing and hunting the Cutoff for over 100 years. There is abundant evidence that public users have an undeniable right to access and recreate here. Below are just a few support points for this case:

  • Creslenn lake clearly fits the definition of a navigable water by every measure of Texas law and statute, and Texans clearly retain the rights to access and use navigable waters for fishing.
  • Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) has long maintained and regulated Creslenn Lake as a public water subject to public fishery and even stocked the lake with Florida Largemouth Bass in 1976 and again in 1998.
  • FM 1667 is a public right of way as designated by the State Highway Department of Texas (predecessor of the TX Department of Transportation).
  • The US Army Corps of Engineers issued a cease-and-desist notice to the private landowner after he violated the County’s floodplain ordinance, but still no action has been taken to remedy the problem.

Thankfully, a group of local sportsmen rallied together when they saw what was being done and formed a 501(c)3 aptly named, “Save the Cutoff”. The individuals that formed Save the Cutoff have invested hours of their personal time to research historical records, engage the local community, fundraise, and catalogue new developments in their campaign to reestablish rightful public access. In 2022 they reached out to the Texas Chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers and found an ally. Since then, Texas BHA has supported Save the Cutoff’s work by increasing issue awareness and making a $1,000 donation towards attorney’s fees. In addition, the Texas Rivers Protection Association is dedicated to providing support on this issue as well and is working closely with Save the Cutoff and BHA. Unfortunately, no government entities have restored access so Save the Cutoff has been forced to hire an attorney and pursue multiple lawsuits to seek resolution on behalf of the public.

Texas BHA supports the rule-of-law and believes that private property should be respected.  However, this is a clear attempt to disregard applicable laws and years of historical evidence to privatize navigable waters for personal gain. This area, and the hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation it provides, is irreplaceable. The Cutoff provides unique opportunities for current and future generations of Texans that depend on wild places like this for escape, food for the family table and a place to pass on their hunting, fishing and conservation traditions to the next generation. The Cutoff provided respite during COVID and many locals will tell you that this is the place their kids caught their first bass or shot their first duck. Allowing one individual to put their private interests ahead of the public trust is simply unacceptable.

Stay tuned for more information on this issue. BHA is grateful to our partners at Save the Cutoff and the Texas Rivers Protection Association for their work on this issue thus far. While Save the Cutoff has shown tremendous resolve during this unnecessarily drawn-out conflict, we know that BHA members and supporters will show up to defend public access.

Follow Save The Cut Off on Facebook  

 

About Ryan Buege

Policy Chair for the Texas Chapter of BHA. He lives, hunts, and fishes in Central Texas.