Today the Heritage Trails continue to bring visitors to Texas sites and communities, increasing tourist dollars and hotel stays, and getting folks excited about historic preservation, and contributing to an industry that has grown from a $1 billion annual impact to more than $70 billion. The extensive UT/Rutgers “Economic Impact of Historic Preservation in Texas” study (2015) shows that more than 12 percent of that is attributable to heritage tourism. As THC commissioner John L. Nau III noted as far back as 2002 at the first Federal Heritage Tourism Summit in Washington, D.C., travelers’ increasing interest in “visiting the past” can yield an economic bonanza for localities, states, and the nation, if we are diligent to preserve, research, interpret, and promote our authentic places and their stories.
A Personal Perspective
In the end, a visionary program that has yielded economic benefit to our state it about much more than money alone. It’s about recreation, inspiration, imagination, and gratitute for our natural, scenic, and and cultural heritage. When I met original Parkway study team member Jerry Rogers quite by chance a few years ago, he said that what he found most gratifying, and amazing, is that the Heritage Trails program had turned out so much like the vision those idealists originally imagined.
I want to leave you with a few words from our creation story, from the closing paragraph of Urbanovsky’s 1967 Texas Parkway Study. “Perhaps the term Recreation Environment can be expressed in the Plains Indian word Waucaunda. It meant ‘Great Spirit.’ . . . For the Indian saw Waucaunda everywhere: in the sun, the moon, and the stars; in the earth, the waters, and the wind; in the eagle, the trees, and the buffalo. Waucaunda was a profound and reverent identification between man and his environment. [Today we have] almost lost that identification. But we can regain it through Recreational Environment. This is our challenge: to influence future development so that recreation [—and I will add, enjoyment of our heritage and culture—] will become an integral part of our daily lives.”
We hope that what we learn about our own past will help inform and secure the program’s future, for the benefit of travelers everywhere. Barbara Brannon’s research into twentieth-century American social history ranges from bookstores to back roads and encompasses forms as diverse as folk songs, travel blogs, magazine features, and a highway history. The author of The Ferries of North Carolina: A Guide to the State’s Nautical Highways, she currently serves as executive director of the Texas Plains Trail Region. She holds the MA and PhD in American literature from the University of South Carolina and undergraduate degrees in art and English from Georgia College.