Angelina County Attorney Cary Kirby is investigating who owns William Womack Road near Zavalla after a debate to temporarily close the road ensued in Tuesday’s Commissioners Court meeting.
At the start of deer season, several Angelina County residents found themselves barred from entering a public hunting ground owned by the U.S. Forest Service. A gate was put up by resident Dale Gore, who recently purchased land at the end of the road, after he said he obtained permission from the forest service and Pct. 4 commissioner Bobby Cheshire’s staff.
Gore is asking that the commissioners close the road temporarily until they can build it up to state standards. It is currently a sand road, he said.
Three men — Larry Howard, Kenneth Stanley and Robert Blanton — took an opportunity at the public hearing to present their side of the story. All believed that the roadblock was unfair, especially to those hunters who had utilized the public land surrounding the road for years.
“If I can’t get down there to hunt or whatever, what good is it for me?” Blanton asked. “The National Forest Service has cut all our hunting ground just about.
“One man can come in there, that owns a little spot, and blocked it off. He’s got 100 acres — 200 acres for his people to pay him to come in and hunt in there.”
Stanley has been an outspoken opponent of the gate since it was first installed, saying he needed to be able to drive further up the road to get to his hunting ground. He brought several pages covered in 105 signatures for hunters in agreement with him that the gate should be removed.
“I’ve been trying to find out about a gate that’s across our William Womack Road for months now,” Stanley said. “I’ve talked to everybody. And I can’t find out why there’s a gate across a county-maintained road in Zavalla. This road has caused more controversy than anything.”
Stanley said he likes Gore, but he is against Gore’s gate. He has hunted in that land for more than 50 years and wants to know why and when the gate was approved.
“I stay away from the private land,” Howard said. “But I don’t believe I need to walk down a public road that’s been fenced off by a private individual. He’s got a key to it. It’s public land on both sides. It’s a public road. He has fenced off a public road.”
The road was in poor shape and nearly impossible for the people who were on the land to remove all their stuff when Gore purchased it, he said. He said he asked Cheshire to have the ditches pulled, then Gore proceeded to fix the road himself.
“I got a drag that I fixed hay fields with,” he said. “And I’ll bet that if I made one trip, I made 500 trips up and down this road.”
Blanton said during the public hearing that he had road construction experience and that it wouldn’t take much to fix up and maintain that road.
Gore said it was a constant battle to keep the road maintained because hunters would come in and mess around in the mud. At one point, three hunters were in the way of him trying to leave his land, and when he came back, he found a pile of human feces in front of the gate to his property, he said.
“What did I do to these people?” he asked. “It wasn’t long after that that I went out in the morning and I couldn’t get out on the road. Somebody had come out in the night and just gutted it out. I had to call my son and he had to come drag me out.”
Gore spoke with representatives for the Texas Forest Service and the Zavalla County Barn and was given permission, he said.
“That’s where the gate came from. I went and built my gate. I put it up,” he said. “The forestry department delivered a lock to me to go on that gate.”
Gore was further questioned on the matter of his permissions by Pct. 1 Commissioner Greg Harrison. Cheshire said he didn’t directly give permission, but didn’t deny that it was given.
The county officials do not know who owns the land, though, as was pointed out by Angelina County Judge Don Lymbery and Cheshire.
Harrison asked that the court pressure Gore into opening the road until a resolution could be found, especially in light of deer season. Cheshire reminded Harrison again that they don’t know who has authority over the road and that no action could be taken.
Commissioners tabled any discussion on the item until Kirby could return with more information on the matter.