An unidentified Neches River paddler stands on the bank near his kayak. Photo by Adrian F. Van Dellen

NACOGDOCHES, Texas - The serpentine length of the Neches River, which winds its way over hundreds of miles from East Texas' Van Zandt County to the Gulf Coast, has been documented for the first time in a new book published by the Stephen F. Austin State University Press.

"Let the River Run Wild! Saving the Neches" is the product of more than two years of collaborative work between photographer Adrian F. Van Dellen and SFA Professor Emeritus of English Dr. Francis E. Abernethy. The 152-page photographic odyssey of the river's past, its environment and the efforts to preserve it is intended to inspire people to take a second glance at an often overlooked East Texas treasure.

Abernethy said he hopes the book will show people why the river is worth preserving, especially as organizations devoted to the river continue working to have it designated as a National Wild and Scenic River - a federal status that would protect it from development and preserve the surrounding habitat.

Though he grew up hunting and fishing along the Neches, Abernethy said helping put the book together meant seeing the river in a new way. By boat, he traveled the length of the river with Van Dellen, who previously wrote a book on paddling the Neches. Photos of the river are paired with GPS coordinates to allow others to easily find the landmarks pictured in the book.

The concept for a photo book about the river was born out of conflict. In 2007, the Texas Water Development Board proposed damming a section of the Neches to create a reservoir - an idea that garnered much criticism because it would flood some of the country's rare hardwood forests, which border the river, and impact a number of historical areas.

Efforts by conservationists, private landowners and then-U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison succeeded in stopping the dam and creating the Neches River Wildlife Refuge in 2006. To further encourage the river's preservation, SFA Press Director Kim Verhines said, copies are being donated to school libraries in communities along the length of the river.

The subject matter isn't the only first accomplished with "Let the River Run Wild." Verhines said the book is the first large, photo-centered project the SFA Press has produced.

"Everybody who's looked at it has been amazed," Verhines said.

Copies of the book are available from Barnes & Noble bookstore on campus,, the Nacogdoches Convention and Visitors Bureau and