Texas Forts Trail celebrates half a century of tourism with the 50th Anniversary Caravan on Oct. 4-6
Abilene, TX - On Thursday morning, Oct. 4, vehicles carrying promoters of heritage tourism will pull out onto FM 600 from downtown Abilene, and head north to Fort Richardson - just as they did 50 years ago, when Gov. and Mrs. John B, Connally led the way to dedicate the newly launched Texas Travel Trails.
The Forts Trail 50th celebration will then make its way south to Brownwood, then west to San Angelo and up north again to Buffalo Gap. In the process, they’ll cover more than 660 highway miles.
“The 50th Anniversary caravan is a wonderful way to call attention to the unique resources that exist in our state and especially within the Texas Forts Trail Region,” said Margaret Hoogstra, executive director of the Texas Forts Trail. “Texas is the only state with ten separate heritage tourism regions, and they are based on the loop driving trails created by Gov. Connally in 1968.”
The public is welcome to drive along in their vehicles or greet the 2018 Caravan at scheduled stops.
For details and to register for participation, make reservations for meals and find hotel information, see www.texasheritagetrailregions.com/forts-caravan.html
The Trails in 1968
The Texas Travel Trails range in length from 523 miles to 859 miles, tend to avoid Interstates and stick mostly to U.S and state highways. The Trails pass through 157 of Texas’ 254 counties. They were designed to encourage visitors to stay and see more of Texas with its bountiful sceneries, history and culture.
The Trails were marked by highway signs in a distinctive color known as “Nellie’s blue,” selected by the governor as he took note of his wife’s dress in a photo on his desk. A series of map brochures with information about sites along each trail was produced; these are prized collector’s items today.
A full history of the Trails program, with historic photos, documents, and other images, may be downloaded at www.TexasTimeTravel.com/history
A 2015 study of the economic impact of preservation, including heritage tourism, in Texas may be downloaded at www.thc.texas.gov/public/upload/publications/economic-impact-historic-pr...
The Trails Today
In the mid-1990s, “heritage and cultural tourism” was recognized as a significant component within the tourism industry. A heritage tourism initiative was approved by the Texas legislature and in 1998 the Texas Forts Trail was the pilot for Texas’ new statewide heritage tourism program. Thus, the Texas Forts Trail Region and the Texas Heritage Trails Program are also celebrating their 20th anniversary this year.
Today, the Texas Heritage Trails Program, which was recognized in 2005 with the President’s Preserve America award, educates travelers and promotes heritage tourism through the cooperative marketing, networking, training, and community support. It is a significant contributor to the $7 billion-plus annual economic impact of heritage tourism in Texas and the nearly $70 billion impact of travel and tourism overall.
“Heritage tourism is a proven economic driver in Texas,” said Mrs. Hoogstra. “In small towns, history museums, historic sites, parks, and other destinations preserve a community’s stories and histories and attract travelers to stay longer and spend more.”
Stay an Extra Day in Texas
That was precisely what Gov. Connally did in May 1967, when announcing the creation of the Texas Travel Trails at his Third Annual Governor’s Tourist Development Conference. Connally remarked that if those tourists had been persuaded to stay only one more day, it would have brought an additional $188 million to the state’s economy.
As another component of the Texas Heritage Trail 50th anniversary, the THC is coordinating a year long “Stay an Extra Day in Texas” sweepstakes featuring travel packages in each of the 10 regions as prizes The Texas Forts Trail will be the featured region in October.
For more about the Texas Heritage Trails Program, visit www.thc.texas.gov/preserve/projects-and-programs/texas-heritage-trails