Part 3: Texas Heritage Trails at 50: Planning the Trails
It was the carefully organized papers of Professor Urbanovsky that the university archivist recalled, that cracked open the door and shed light on a not-too-distant history most had forgotten. Via his, and his students’, contributions to the Texas state parks system, the Texas Heritage Trails, and even the landscaping of the Tech campus, Urbanovsky left an important mark on the Lone Star State for decades to come.
One of the original gradstudent team, Jerry Rogers, now retired from a distinguished career with the National Park Service, paints a colorful picture of the man. “Genial, friendly, outgoing beyond the normal meaning of the word, he was well liked among faculty and staff,” said Rogers, “and his reputation for innovation and unconventionality was known to all. . . . Always dressed in a rumpled suit and tie and when outdoors wearing an almost goofy little hat, he happily cultivated a reputation for being both brilliantly innovative and eccentric to the point of occasional nuttiness.”He was “a man of many ideas and much energy,” and he had secured a state contract in the amount of $30,000 a year to “identify and designate roads in Texas that would counteract the “Interstate effect”; to get cities, towns, and counties to recognize that money could be made by getting tourists to slow down and explore special places; and to understand that each community had some special identity that deserved to be recognized, preserved, and cultivated.” The spade work of these tasks he left largely to the four graduate assistants: Donald Stence, H. Alden Sievers, and Harold Dollins, in addition to Rogers.
Urbanovsky also assembled a team of colleagues in four disciplines, among whom Dr. James W. (Bill) Kitchen, professor of landscape architecture; and Dr. Seymour Vaughan (Ike) Connor, professor of history, contributed most regularly. Under their loose supervision the students would survey the landscape, literally, to determine how an automobile route might bring travelers out into the remote historic locales of Texas to stay longer and spend more. The group was to consider all aspects, draft a solution, and present recommendations to the governor by spring of 1967. But this was no mere theoretical exercise. “This Parkway,” wrote team member Sievers, “should be a State Parkway, a Texas State Parkway, and it should portray the real Texas, the real Texan.”
They turned out a thoroughgoing project, based on their own exploratory trip and enhanced with photography and description. Laying out the challenges in a session, “Foundations of a State Parkway,” at the 12th annual Southwest Park and Recreation Training Institute at Lake Texoma, they researched and refined and reassessed throughout the year. At the Texas State Historical Association in March 1967 they gave a “Preview of the Texas Parkway” complete with scenic slides and stirring narrative, revealing three broad recommendations they planned to present to the governor: “. . . [F]irst, that local governments and private citizens be stimulated to play a more important part in recreation and tourism planning; second, that a Texas State Parkway be developed as the uniting element of a larger recreation package; and third, that a vigorous statewide planning and development organization be established so that recreation may be included in comprehensive planning.”
Following a choral prelude, the governor introduced the presentation by calling the project “a completely new idea and innovation in the treatment of recreational travel . . . designed to provide visitors to our State, as well as Texans, with a means of getting off the beaten paths and onto the byways for a leisurely look at the abundant scenic, historical, and recreational attractions that Texas has to offer.”He trumpeted the state’s first-ever billion-dollar tourism year, playing up the personal value of recreation and the financial value of travelers coming to the state. And he asked the audience to consider this: that if those tourists had been persuaded to stay only one more day, it would’ve brought an additional $188 million to the state’s economy. The Trails were how Texas was going to do it.
The multimedia extravaganza, which Jerry Rogers described as “over the top even by Eloesque standards,” featured slides narrated by Rogers, segueing into a filmstrip that gave the effect of a windshield tour of the South Texas sample region, as the choir provided a background medley including “Shrimp Boats is a comin’,” “Come to the Bower,” “Hello, Dolly,” and “The Chisholm Trail,” among other numbers.
Connally emphasized the financial benefits of travel promotion to Texas. The trails, he said in his remarks, would “bring new economic hope to the door-step of small towns and out-of-the-way points all over the state.” He cautioned, however, that Texas could “only get them there once and then it will be up to each Texan through his hospitality, warmth and friendliness to make sure they return.”
A series of documents show that the team wrestled with what to call their project. Variant drafts of the presentation, and other documents, show the shifts in nomenclature and concept from the time the study was commissioned in 1965 as the “Texas State Park Study in Texas History.” It was the Urbanovsky team themselves who envisioned the study “in terms of Texas State Historical Parkway Research” with “the use of a parkway as the vector of interpreting history,” as they put it. The team’s Lake Texoma document demonstrates that they conceived of a single, and unique, recreational Texas parkway, contrasted with non-commercial, interpretive routes like the Blue Ridge Parkway or turnpikes like the Garden State Parkway and the Sunshine State Parkway. The name of this Texas parkway “must portray a mood or feeling that will picture Texas as a pleasant state, a fun state,” they wrote. “It must beckon; it must welcome the visitor.” Emendations in drafts of the Austin presentation show all references to “Parkway” struck in favor of “Byway,” “Tourway,” and “Trail”; and the final program was titled “Recreation, Scenic, and Historical Roadways for Texas.”