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Texas Heritage Trails at 50: Planning the Trails

By Barbara Brannon

Beginnings Texas Takes Action Planning the Trails Launching the Trails Travelers Take to the Trails New Directions Ongoing Travels

Texas State Parkway Project brochure, 1967.
Photo: Texas Historical Commission

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.” [10] 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.” [11]

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.” [12]

Event invitation.
Photo: John B. Connally Papers, LBJ Library

The main event, however, took place on May 3, 1967, at Austin’s Municipal Auditorium. [13]

On the platform were Governor Connally, Lieutenant Governor Preston Smith, and Speaker of the House Ben Barnes. Texas Tech brought a busload from Lubbock: not only the heads of three academic departments involved in the study, several colleagues, and their four graduate assistants, but college president Grover E. Murray, and the entire college choir along with their director, Gene Kenney. [14]

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.” [15] 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. [16] The Trails were how Texas was going to do it.

"A Recreational, Scenic, and Historical Series of Texas Roadways," Program, May 3, 1967.
Photo: Texas Historical Commission

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. [17]

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.” [18]

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. [19] 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.” [20] 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.” [21]

10 Jerry Rogers to Barbara Brannon, Feb. 2, 2015, with attached unpublished notes, “Vignettes of a TTU Trails Project.”

11 “Parkway Research,” E133.6C, Box 3, Folder 31, “Texas State Historical Parkway Project, 1965– 1966,” p. 5, DPA Papers.

12 “Preview of the Texas Parkway, 1967,” E133.6A, Box 1 Folder 43, DPA Papers.

13 Invitation from Gov. Connally for 3 May 1967 presentation, Box 25, Accepted Itinerary April 24 through June 13, 1967, “Meeting on Historic Roads, Dept. of Park Adm. - Texas Tech, Austin, Texas, May 3” folder, Connally Papers.

14 Invitation to 3 May 1967 event, and “Recreational, Scenic, And Historical Roadways For Texas” program, THT records, Folder 2, subfolder “Announcement, Governor’s Speech Info, Editorials.”

15 “Film Introduction,” E133.6C, Box 3, Folder 36, “Texoma Presentation, undated,” DPA Papers.

16 “Remarks, Governor Connally, Travel Trails of Texas Presentation, Austin, May 3, 1967,” Connally papers, Series 5, Speeches, April 13, 1867 through June 13, 1967, Box 20, Texts, LBJ Library.

17 “Texas State Parkway Study—Austin Presentation,” E133.6C, Box 3, Folder 36, “Texoma Presentation, undated,” DPA Papers; THT records, Folder 2, subfolder “Announcement, Governor’s Speech Info, Editorials,” Recreational, Scenic, And Historical Roadways For Texas Program [May 3, 1968]. These folders contain actual photographs and filmstrips used in the original presentation, which are not shown here.

18 LBJLib_081913 4596, Jerry Hall, “Ten Texas Trails Outlined at State Conference,” news clipping from Waco Tribune-Herald [4 May 1967], Connally Papers.

19 “Parkway Research,” E133.6C, Box 3, Folder 31, “Texas State Historical Parkway Project, 1965– 1966,” DPA Papers.

20 “Foundations of a State Parkway,” [box number], DPA Papers.

21 “See marked drafts in TDA Papers; also marked draft in Folder 1990/20-6, “Texas Travel Trails” folder, Publication Division records, Marketing Communications Division records, Texas Historical Commission. Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission, Texas State Library (hereafter cited as MC/THC Records).