It’s been almost a year since a maroon and silver fence with ‘No Trespassing’ signs appeared around the access to the Cutoff. And it’s still there.
The Cutoff is a body of water in East Texas along the border of Henderson and Navarro Counties. Generations of people have gone there to fish, boat, and camp. But a new landowner bought property bordering the Cutoff toward the end of 2020, and put up the fence shortly thereafter.
Duck hunting at the Cutoff has been especially good this year, according to Dustin Baker, the leader of a local advocacy group called Save the Cutoff that wants the fence removed. But if he had his way, he’d sacrifice a few of the gadwalls and mallards he’s bagged so more people could enjoy the space.
“The fence has deterred a ton of people. And it’s made the hunting better for us, as far as not so many people being there. But I would rather have open free use of the place. You know that fence, it’s a pain in the butt,” he said.
Baker and others slide their boats over the fence and get in anyway, with the blessing of local law enforcement. But not everyone can do that.
“We have a lot of individuals that have physical impairments and disabilities that aren’t allowed to use the Cutoff right at this point because they can’t access that,” Baker said.
Phillip Surls, the owner of nearby Iron River Ranch, is the person who had the fence put up. In September, the Texas Department of Transportation requested that Surls remove the fence, since it was on their right of way. When nothing happened, TxDOT then referred the matter to the Texas Attorney General’s office.
Neither Baker nor his lawyer have heard from the AG’s office yet. So last week, Save the Cutoff announced two new legal actions: one against Henderson County, the other against Phillip Surls and Iron River Ranch.
The lawsuit against Henderson County deals with a road that people once used to access the Cutoff.