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Texas Heritage Trails at 50: Travelers Take to the Trails

By Barbara Brannon


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

HemisFair 68' Memorabilia.
Photo: Barbara Brannon

Communities blessed by inclusion wrote to thank the governor, but there were also predictable and numerous and complaints regarding omission and pleas for reconsideration. Frank Hildebrand outlined for the governor’s office several strategies for responding to the disappointed and disgruntled—and included a list of the 52 counties, predominantly in West Texas, that had never communicated a desire to participate. One counterargument was that the system of ten new Texas Travel Trails was designed from the outset to accommodate complementary, private trails (such as the recently designated President’s Ranch Trail). [46] There is no record of any brainstorming or dissention about the ten trail names—they always appear exactly as we know them today. The ten trail logos, which also remain unchanged today, were produced and implemented by the Highway Department. [47]

As Hemisfair ’68 was set to open in San Antonio, so, too, were preparations being made to open the Travel Trails. [48] The trails, which ranged in individual length from 523 to 859 miles, totaled nearly 7,000 miles of state highways and farm-to-market roads. The brochures created by the Highway Department for distribution at the state’s Travel Information Centers proved popular; the agency would print half a million annually. [49] [50]

The Travel Trails garnered significant media coverage statewide and in newspapers large and small. Gov. and Mrs. Connally dedicated several of the trails during 1968, traveling to major cities with an entourage of supporters. [51] [52] A caravan traveled portions of the Texas Mountain Trail — the first to be dedicated and launched — on Mar. 27 and 28, beginning in Alpine, traveling down to Lajitas, back up to Van Horn, and over to El Paso—with an evening reception across the border in Juarez—and winding up the next afternoon at Fort Davis for the dedication of Texas’s first million-dollar state park. [53]

HemisFair itself was beset by a series of troubles, some of its own making and some coincidental. While HemisFair never met its projected draw of 10 million tourists and ended up $7.5 million in the hole, [55] the Travel Trails flourished. The Trails, which required little in the way of maintenance other than the occasional reprinting of brochures and replacing of damaged signs, fulfilled their mission as anticipated. Visitor traffic to Trails communities increased threefold. [56] The TTDA made ample use of the Trails as a tourist promotion. [57]

Texas Plains Trail metal map sign, 1968. [54]
Photo: Barbara Brannon

Over time, as the wheels of the program ran smoothly and required little grease, however, new administrations paid the Trails scant attention. Only a few minor overhauls of the routes were made, during the program’s first few years, when the committee remained active. Soon counties’ original commitments to fund signage were forgotten, and in 1974 the Texas Department of Transportation (successor to the Highway Department) absorbed responsibility for the signs as well as the brochures. During the oil embargos of the 1970s leisure travel declined nationwide, and funding for the brochures dried up. Brochure printing lapsed from 1979 to 1983 and again in 1987. [58] The blue-and-white signs remained, a curiosity and holdover for any travelers who might attempt driving the routes without benefit of printed map or guide.

On several occasions private sponsors helped make the Trails materials available. At the outset, in 1968 and 1969, Pearl Brewing branded and distributed a full-color booklet touting all ten trails. In 1991 Texas Monthly ran a series of supplements presenting updated descriptions of the trails, underwritten by GMC Trucks (Frost Bank would later support a similar program, in 2002–03). [59]

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46 LBJLib_081913 4613–14, memo, Frank Hildebrand to John Mobley, 2 February 1968, Connally Papers. Folder 60-15-67, Travel Trails, includes numerous complaints received in the weeks following Connally’s announcement of the trails routes, but one “particularly heart-warming” editorial prompted Hildebrand to forward a clipping to the governor, noting “I rather expect that the committee will take such ‘up-by-our-bootstraps’ attitude into account when it comes time to add new communities to the Trails” (LBJLib_081913 4575, “Attracting Tourists to an Off-the-Trail Spot,” Hamilton Herald-News, 25 Jan. 1968, and LBJLib_081913 4574, memo from Hildebrand to Gov. Connally, 6 Feb. 1968, Connally Papers).

47 “Remarks of Governor John Connally, Governor’s Tourism Conference, January 17, 1968, Austin, Texas,” THT records, Folder 1, “Texas Travel Trails History,” p. 7.

48 HemisFair ’68 promotional items, artifacts from Texas Plains Trail Region collection. Photo by Barbara Brannon.

49 [Add citation for print run]

50 Set of ten original two-color Texas Travel Trails brochures, artifacts from Texas Plains Trail Region collection. Photo by Barbara Brannon.

51 Letter, Truett Latimer to Charles R. Woodburn, 20 Nov. 1968, THT records, Folder 1, “Texas Travel Trails History.”

52 LBJLib_081913 4419, program, Box 29, Accepted Itinerary Mar 6 through Apr. 1, 1968, “Mountain Trails—El Paso, March 28, 1968” folder, Connally Papers.

53 Itinerary, LBJLib_081913 4412, itinerary, Box 29, Accepted Itinerary Mar 6 through Apr. 1, 1968, “Mountain Trails—El Paso, March 28, 1968” folder, Connally Papers.

54 Sign donated to Texas Plains Trail Region by Hutchinson County Museum, Borger, Dec. 2012. Photo by Barbara Brannon.

55 “HemisFair ’68,” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HemisFair_'68, accessed March 15, 2013.

56 [Add citation for figures]

57 TxStLib_081913 4486, ad promoting Texas Pecos Trail with covering note from Frank Hildebrand to Dorman H. Winfrey, 6 Dec. 1971, Winfrey Papers.

58 “History and Status of the Texas Travel Trails Program,” THT records, Folder 1, “Texas Travel Trails History.”