Part 2: Texas Heritage Trails at 50: Texas Takes Action
Although tourism had emerged in the 1950s as the state’s fifth largest industry, Texas could not by law use tax dollars to attract outsiders—until a constitutional amendment in 1958 at last reversed the situation. In the spring of 1963, Connally’s first session in Austin, the state passed its first allocation of funds for this purpose, and also established the Texas Tourism Development Agency (TTDA) . The TTDA hired an enterprising reporter for the Baytown Sun named Frank Hildebrand, who would head the agency for many years.
In July of that year, a rising sophomore at Texas Tech by the name of Jim Phillips wrote to Governor Connally with an idea. Phillips’s family had taken a vacation in the southeastern U.S. from Wichita Falls a couple of years earlier and had driven on the Natchez Trace Parkway. Phillips described his idea thus: “I laid out my thoughts on a trail to the Governor, thinking that would at least get the idea out of my head. I was surprised when within a week, I got a letter back saying the Governor thought it was a great idea and he had forwarded it to the head of the Texas Highway Department”.
Whether Phillips’s letter is what really got the ball rolling, we may never know. But the governor in any case took the possibilities for highway tourism seriously. The TTDA began the search for a Texas advertising agency, and by January 1964, even with Connally still recovering from the gunshot wound received when the President was assassinated in November, it had narrowed its review and on February 3 selected McCann-Erickson’s Houston office to handle its account. In account executive Kern Tips’s report, two weeks later, of the agency’s initial meeting with representatives of the Highway Department (which had been responsible for all tourism promotion to date) and the new TTDA, the exploratory concept of “Texas Travel Trails” was already in the air.
What the survey revealed was dismaying. Overwhelmingly, Americans thought of all Texas as a desert wasteland—lots of oil and gas and cactus (saguaro, at that) but no water. There was little awareness of any water recreation of the sort that brought tourists to Florida or California . So Texas set about to change that perception, both through its advertising messaging and by more direct means—building more recreational lakes. It’s no coincidence that the state approved major dam projects in the 1960s, including the De Cordova Bend Dam that would create Lake Granbury and prompt John Graves’s river trip that he famously recalled in Goodbye to a River . (I speculate that the desire to counter the tourist image of Texas as a state without water is one theory behind the naming of the Texas Lakes Trail.)
The 1963 legislative session had also merged two separate agencies to establish Texas Parks & Wildlife—the result of a study Connally commissioned from the then new Department of Parks Administration at Texas Technological College according to the recommendation of the Texas Research League. The state parks study was so well received that in 1965 Connally commissioned another. By then Connally, ambitious and eager to showcase Texas as both a modern, cosmopolitan state and a stronghold of Old West mystique, set Professor Elo J. Urbanovsky and his Texas Tech team on a new task. They were to examine the feasibility of creating a Texas State Parkway.