It’s said that all good things must come to an end. However, Stuart Marcus, manager of the Trinity River National Wildlife Refuge, plans to remain in Liberty County after his retirement begins on Nov. 1. He is looking forward to being involved in some of the annual events he helped create, including Moth Night Out, Insect Night Out and the Christmas bird count.
“I am going to stick around. I am not going anywhere. I tell everyone I don’t have any grand plans. I will still be doing the Christmas bird count and the Moth Night Out events for the Refuge. I am looking forward to doing the fun stuff that doesn’t require me to tell anyone what to do,” Marcus said.
Over the last several years, the management side of the job began taking up more and more of his time, keeping him from the work that originally drew him to the profession.
“I am the P Person – phones, PowerPoint, personnel, problems, psychologist, politicians, PCs, poachers, polluters and paperwork. That’s what I have been calling myself for years,” he said with a laugh.
Marcus is retiring with more than 40 years with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and another year with the Forest Service in North Carolina. Marcus is a Florida native and a 1977 graduate of the University of Florida. After college, he briefly worked with his dad before entering the field of wildlife refuge management. He started his career in 1978, first working for the forest service in North Carolina and then working for four different refuges in Florida. In 1994, he landed the position of refuge manager for the Trinity River National Wildlife Refuge.
For the first five years in Liberty County, he worked out of his house.
“Toward the end of the fifth year, I ended up getting a new employee – a biotech, who had to come to my home every day because we didn’t have an office. I was storing government equipment and property at my home and in my garage in those days,” Marcus said.
In 1999, Marcus and staff moved into a new rented office space on Main Street, where they remained for the next 12 years until the regional director of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service came for a visit and was “disgusted with the space.”
“We wanted to build an office on the Refuge. We bought this piece of property where we are now on FM 1011. This is where we envisioned we would be. It’s the only high spot on the property,” he said. “In 2012, we moved into the new headquarters. It’s hard to believe we have been here for seven years already.”
Marcus jokes that he could have quit after the new headquarters was opened because it felt like a huge accomplishment, trumped only by the long-awaited installations of bathrooms at the Champion Lake Public Use Area south of Dayton off FM 1409.
“I am proud that we brought an area to the public that they can visit, view, learn about and enjoy,” he said of Champion Lake. “There is so much private property in Texas. There aren’t a lot of places like Champion Lake where you can go for free and view wildlife or go fishing. It’s been very nice working with the community. We are fortunate to have community support, media support and chamber support.”
He has an alternate take on the famous “Field of Dreams” quote, “If you build it, they will come.” Marcus believes that by preserving the natural essence of the Refuge that people will come to see nature in all its beauty.
“We will save it and they will come,” he said. “We are working to preserve some habitat that is being lost in Texas, preserving it so people will be able to enjoy it long after we are gone. We do minimal damage. We keep as much of it primitive as possible. We are not building major structures out here in the Refuge. We keep it as natural as possible.”
The natural setting has allowed wildlife, plants and trees to thrive. In 2016, the largest alligator ever captured alive in Texas – measuring at 13 feet and 8 inches – was pulled from Champion Lake after it became too comfortable around humans and posed a danger. The gator was nicknamed Big Tex and now lives at Gator Country, an alligator sanctuary in the Beaumont area.
“They say he is 14 feet long now. They are feeding him a lot. He is getting lazy on all that chicken. He was king of the hill of Champion Lake for a while though,” Marcus said.
Champion Lake Public Use Area is the biggest public use area in the Trinity River National Wildlife Refuge. A pier, butterfly garden, boat ramps, canoeing, kayaking and trails along the levee and nature areas are among the attractions at Champion Lake.
“We have areas in the Refuge that have bigger trees and have different kinds of habitats, but Champion Lake is our biggest attraction,” he said.
In 1994, the Refuge began with the purchase of 4,400 acres in the Tarkington area. The land is north of SH 105 and east of FM 2518, north of Sam Houston Lake Estates.
“There is nothing on that property except some bat houses we built to help a threatened Texas state bat,” he said.
The Rafinesque bat colony is thriving today and is constantly being overseen by Marcus or Refuge biologist Laurie Gonzales. Marcus said his success as a Refuge manager is tied to his staff.
“I don’t know if this is something I should be proud about or if it is just dumb luck, but I’ve had the same staff for the last 14 years. I am the change since I am retiring. I have talked to a lot of Refuge managers and they say that doesn’t happen very often where you have the same staff for so long,” he said.
The staff includes Gonzales, Equipment Operator Rick Carroll, Law Enforcement Officer Silvester Martincic and Administrative Officer Bonnie Campisi.
“They will be here after I am gone,” he said.
Marcus’ employees are hosting an invitation-only retirement party for him on Saturday, Oct. 26, at the Liberty Center in Liberty.
Today, the Refuge is sprawled over 30,000 acres. The parcels are not all contiguous and are a combination of 60-70 tracts with some as small as an acre and some as large as thousands of acres.