Piney Woods region offers rural charm

In the far eastern part of Texas is a region that might be better suited as part of border states Arkansas and Louisiana. This Piney Woods region is the subtle buffer that takes visitors from heavily wooded highways to flat prairies with no trees.

The area boasts towns such as Tyler (84,000), Longview (pop. 73,000), Nacogdoches (30,000) and Texarkana (pop. 35,000), the residents of which are independent-minded folks - their ancestors were some of the first Texas settlers. In other words, towns in this region are among the in the state. Outdoor recreation, sports (especially Friday night high school football), hunting and fishing and local town festivals are hot topics in this region. Tyler is home to the Texas Rose Festival and a town called Marshall (pop. 24,000) is home to the Texas FireAnt Festival, among many others.

There are no metropolitan areas to speak of in this region, but plenty of great food, beautiful scenery, old plantations, and historic hotels and inns. The regional economy is based on agriculture, manufacturing and oil production.

Nacogdoches was an Indian settlement for centuries before European explorers entered the area in the 17th and 18th centuries. Called the “cradle of Texas liberty,” the townsmen fired the opening shots of the Texas Revolution in 1832 and succeeded in driving Mexican troops out of East Texas. The town has a coterie of interesting architecture from Mexican influence to Victorian homes. Stephen F. Austin State University has a beautiful campus with 23 gardens in a 10-acre arboretum.

Several churches in nearby St. Augustine (pop. 2,500) - including Episcopal, Methodist and Presbyterian - claim to be the oldest of their denomination in Texas. At quaint Conroe (pop. 37,000), resorts, golf courses, tennis courts, campgrounds and marinas dot the tree-lined shore of Lake Conroe. To the far south of this region is The Woodlands, a planned community, with more than 55,000 residents. Many retirees have found this community - replete with greenways, hike and bike trails, a lake and parks - the perfect setting to enjoy life.

Texarkana is split down the middle - half is in Arkansas and half in Texas. You may have heard billionaire businessman and former presidential candidate Ross Perot speak of growing up poor in Texarkana, before making a name for himself in Dallas.