TEXAS PLAINS TRAIL Region
Lana Barnett at TPTR Roundup
Photo by: Jim Brokenbek
A great big “Happy Birthday” to Texas Plains Trail. Officially ten years old this month, the historic event was celebrated in August at Canadian with the annual Roundup.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Texas Plains Trail, it is the largest of ten heritage tourism regions of the Texas Historical Commission's award-winning Heritage Trails initiative, founded in 1968 by Gov. John Connally to promote the historical, cultural, and natural resources of the Lone Star State.
Plains Trail received the designation In September of 2003 at Tulia. I was honored to be asked to speak on the ten-year history at Roundup. Below is a copy of the speech.
“It is my great privilege and honor to be here today. It’s hard to believe that ten years have passed since the Texas Historical Commission came from Austin to Tulia to present us with the designation so many individuals had been working toward for over a year.
In the beginning we really didn’t know what we were working toward, but that didn’t matter, we were in a competition…. and being Panhandle/South Plains/ West Texas people…..we wanted to win!!!
It all began in the spring of 2002 when I went to the post office to pick up the mail for the Tulia Chamber of Commerce where I worked. We were really busy at the time with practice for our annual melodrama and other projects we were working on. So on returning to the office I scanned the mail, handed the secretary what apparently seemed important and laid the other things in my box to get back to later.
A couple of days after that I took the time to look at the “JUNK” mail in my box. One little innocent looking postcard was from the Texas Historical Commission announcing a meeting in Amarillo the following day to see what interest was in the area for working on the Texas Plains Trail. Even though I had no clue what the Texas Plains Trail was, I called immediately to say that I would be there.
In that meeting at Amarillo, I learned about Texas Heritage Trails from Janie Headrick, coordinator of the Trails from THC. I learned it was an innovative initiative to bring heritage tourism to the already created ten scenic driving trails in our state; And to expand it beyond just a marked hiway to the entire region surrounding the trails.
The Texas Heritage Trails Program is based around 10 scenic driving trails created in 1968 by Gov. John Connally and the Texas Highway Department as a marketing tool. The trails were established in conjunction with the HemisFair, an international exposition commemorating the 250th anniversary of the founding of San Antonio. But…except for signage, not much was ever done with the trails.
Then, in 1997, almost thirty years after the Trails had been created, the State Legislature charged the THC to create a statewide heritage tourism program. The THC responded with a program based on local, regional, and state partnerships, centered on the 10 scenic driving trails.
I also found out at the meeting in Amarillo the THC wasn’t going to just lay it in your lap, cut you a check and say “GET AFTER IT.” In order to be officially designated, and receive a grant for your operating budget, you had to work you tail off. You had to make a formal application demonstrating a broad knowledge of area attractions and also receive support from organizations and local government.
When the meeting in Amarillo concluded, I met with Janie and told her I wanted to have our first Plains Trail meeting in Tulia. She said it was a big undertaking, that I would need to invite people from all over a 52 county region. I said just tell me what I need to do. She said she’d get back to me.
About two weeks later she called, we could have our organizational meeting in Tulia! My secretary Patsy Hooten and I jumped up and down like two little girls on the playground. We set up a meeting date that THC approved and began calling people.
I got my friend Barbara Finch to decorate the meeting room in the Swisher Memorial Building with red white and blue and have Texas Flags everywhere.
The big day finally came and people from all over began arriving. We had 99 people attend that meeting, a goodly amount for a program no one really understood at the time.
After the initial meeting, we met each month in Tulia, and formed our board and committees. And it wasn’t done without a few arguments, one thing us West Texans are good at is arguing. The biggest obstacle, some thought, was our vast area, larger than many eastern states and by far, the largest Trail region. Some wanted it divided into two distinct regions, the Panhandle and the South Plains, but THC emphatically said no!
The large area didn’t really bother me, why who hasn’t driven two hundred miles to a football game? If we can travel that far for a ballgame, why not a meeting? I mean if we have different people working in all those areas toward a common goal, where’s the problem? Besides, I kind of like the fact that we are, by far, the largest Heritage Trail Region.
So…with THC saying we would not split and that we would remain together, we forged ahead, in competition with three other Trails vying to be named the next Heritage Trail. And we were determined.
Our first board included, in alphabetical order:
Phil Barefield, Quitaque
Lana Barnett, Tulia
Deborah Bigness, Lubbock
Judy Burlin, Clarendon
Wendy Carthel, Friona
Anne Christian, Claude
Seth Davidson, Miami
Linda Drake, Vega
Carolyn Jones Hardy, Floydada
Bobbye Hill, Wheeler
John Hope, Levelland
Lynn Hopkins, Borger
Harry Bob Martin, Spur
Viola Moore, Panhandle
Marie Neff, Post
Hanaba Noack, Childress
Paula Nusz, Stratford
Janet Parnell, Canadian
Virginia Scott, Lipscomb
Verna Ann Wheeler, Crosbyton
We each had a different job; mine was to gather “letters of support” from elected officials, tourist’s destinations, and business people. But I didn’t limit it to those three categories, I sought letters of support from everyone, and they came in by the bushel basket. Every day I went to the post office was like Christmas with gifts coming in from all over.
Others had the job of finding and documenting any historical location that could be considered for heritage tourism. Others were charged with getting letters of support from every county judge in the 52 county area. We went even farther, we got 53 letters of support, one coming from a county judge in a neighboring New Mexico county.
When everything was gathered and documented, Deborah Bigness had the privilege of putting it all together to be sent to Austin. THC advised us to put it in the mail, but after working so hard for over a year, we decided it should be hand delivered to the THC offices in Austin. I put it before my Tulia Chamber of Commerce board of directors who had been behind us 100 percent from the beginning, they agreed, and allotted me $500. for a trip to Austin to hand deliver the grant proposal.
So…on an early Sunday morning in the spring of 2003, board member Judy Burlin, my secretary Patsy Hooten, my husband Dub and myself, left for Austin. Our first stop was in Lubbock where we met Deborah on the parking lot of the Buddy Holly Museum to pick up the grant she had masterfully put together.
Early the next morning we were in the THC offices delivering the grant. The THC people were very nice, although stone-faced and non-committal about our chances against the other Trail proposals.
We returned home and waited. The decision was to be made final in August. In late Summer I received a call from Janie, the next Trail would be the Texas Plains Trail and we would receive our designation in September…at Tulia!!! We were ecstatic.
On that day our town rolled out the Red Carpet as people from the Texas Historical Commission came to town and people from all over the Plains Trail region gathered to accept the challenge. I’ll never forget what the THC representative said in his designation speech; “The Plains Trail has set a high standard for all other Trails to follow.”
We stumbled and hit a few pot holes along the way but, in my opinion, the Plains Trail has become a very dominant factor for tourism in our area. I no longer serve as a board member, but I will always cherish the years I did serve on the board. I have made lasting friendships and been to and seen so many things I never would have otherwise.
Four years later we began the Roundup. Again we didn’t really know where to start or what we needed to do. But the West Texas spirit & grit came through again and each year it continues to get better.
Each year new people come on board with new and fresh ideas. And that’s good, but I will always think that original board paved the way for future greatness. And although at first we were really ignorant as to what we were doing, we had enough vim & vigor & fight in us to take it on.
By 2005 all ten trails had been designated and that same year The Texas Heritage Trails Program received national recognition with the Preserve America Presidential Award. This award was given for exemplary accomplishment in the preservation and sustainable use of America's heritage assets, which has enhanced community life while honoring the nation's history.
The following year, the program was awarded a Preserve America grant for developing the Heritage Tourism Guidebook and for providing heritage tourism training across the state.
This program is a wonderful success story for the Texas Historical Commission. BUT…. none of it would have happened without you, and me and hundreds of other Texans that dedicated their selves to the task of making it happen.
So, the next time you’re traveling down the highway and see the blue and white signs proclaiming “TEXAS PLAINS TRAIL,” please know that it represents a 52 county region that has a great and colorful heritage and is supremely rich with history. The people that live within the borders have been given a great endowment, the responsibility to keep it alive.
Thank you so much for allowing me to represent the original Plains Trail board here today, and thank you all for supporting the Texas Plains Trail.”