Embracing Active Tourism—and Motivating People to Be More Active—in the Lower Rio Grande Valley
Brownsville, TX | Photo by Mark Lehmann
In the Lower Rio Grande Valley in Texas, the Caracara Trails is a vision for a 428-mile trail network that will link the rich natural, cultural and historical resources the area is known for—creating a unified regional identity for outdoor tourism, promoting healthier lifestyles and generating a new sense of community pride for everyone who lives there.
The vision for the trail network is built upon a comprehensive plan—the Lower Rio Grande Valley Active Transportation and Tourism Plan—that leverages the community’s commitment to local economic development in a county with one of the highest poverty rates in the country—and is designed to tap into the rapidly expanding market for “active tourism” to support job creation and small business activity and encourage tourist spending that injects money into local economies.
Sponsored by The Valley Baptist Legacy Foundation and the University of Texas School of Public Health—as well as the cities of Brownsville, Harlingen, Combes, Los Fresnos, Los Indios, Port Isabel, San Benito, South Padre Island, and the towns of Laguna Vista and Rancho Viejo—the Caracara Trails comprises 428 miles of trails—including 230 miles of multiuse trails, 120 miles of U.S. Bicycle Routes and 78 miles of paddling trails that will showcase the vast, expansive beauty of the region’s beaches, wildlife preserves, waterways, cultural sites and geographic landmarks.
Project development will begin with six high-priority “catalyst projects” chosen for their ability to connect existing trails and recreational resources throughout the area.
Regional Tourism on a World Scale
The Caracara Trails aims to become one of the finest and most extensive regionwide nonmotorized transportation networks in the U.S.—and to promote the Lower Rio Grande Valley as a worldwide magnet for active tourists, facilities and infrastructure. With a thriving local tourism economy concentrated around South Padre Island, the Caracara Trails could expand the geographic reach of local tourist expenditures, extend area visits and otherwise reduce seasonal lulls in tourist travel.
Health studies have found that physical activity can increase by up to 40 or 50 percent with trail access close to one’s home. The Caracara Trails’ countywide trail network will complement the many local trail networks (existing and in development) and encourage locals to hike, bike or even ditch a car that many cannot afford. The increased options for physical activity will also help combat the prevalence of health issues related to inactivity, most notably type 2 diabetes. The projected yearly medical cost savings to residents are estimated to be between $3,108,653.2 and $6,492,040.44.
Promoting Social Equity
By providing equitable access to safe transportation corridors in some of Texas’ poorest and most underserved neighborhoods, the Caracara Trails will greatly increase access to safe places for recreation and physical activity for families who currently have none—empowering many to create new connections throughout the Lower Rio Grande Valley. The Caracara Trails will create new biking and walking connections to critical destinations such as jobs, educational institutions, grocery stores, health-care facilities, and outdoor and civic sites. Social cohesion, self-esteem, active lifestyles and access to desirable community destinations will be enhanced for all through the Caracara Trails.
Fueling a Strong Regional Economy
The project will have an enormous economic impact on this highly impoverished but natural-resource-rich area for tourism, job creation and business development—injecting critical small-business investment and generating new tourism revenues along the project route. The Caracara Trails is expected to generate upwards of $40 million in tourist spending for the region in the 10-year period following completion—and the construction phase for the six catalyst projects are expected to generate an economic impact of $56 million.
How We’re Achieving The Vision
When complete, the fully implemented Caracara Trails will comprise 230 miles of multiuse trails, 120 miles of U.S. Bicycle Routes and 78 miles of paddling trails. The first phase of the Caracara Trails involves creation of six catalyst projects that will include 57.5 miles of multiuse trails and on-road biking routes, and 18 miles of paddling trails. Learn more.
- The Valley Baptist Legacy Foundation
- University of Texas School of Public Health
- City of Brownsville
- City of Combes
- City of Harlingen
- Town of Laguna Vista
- City of Los Fresnos
- City of Rio Hondo
- City of Los Indios
- City of Port Isabel
- Town of Rancho Viejo
- City of San Benito
- City of South Padre Island
- Rails-to-Trails Conservancy
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