Major Trail Developments, New Potential Funding Streams in the Lone Star State
Spring in Texas means mild weather and wildflowers blooming.
That means it’s a great time to get out on some Texas trails, and walk or ride among the bluebonnets, as trails are making great strides in the Lone Star State.
Revitalizing Houston Communities
Houston was one of RTC’s invited guests at last year’s inaugural TrailNation Summit, due to the great accomplishments the Houston Parks Board has made building out the 150-mile, $220-million Bayou Greenways 2020 project. This model trail network is connecting Houstonians to parks and green space along eight of the major bayous—while providing them new active transportation options to get around the diverse, vibrant metropolis (especially now, as opposed to, say, in steamy August!).
A priority for Bayou Greenways 2020 is to create more equitable access to trails for underserved communities along the Halls, Greens and Hunting bayous in East and Northeast Houston—many of which have predominantly African American and Hispanic populations and experienced mass devastation during Hurricane Harvey in 2017 (with businesses and many homes destroyed). As part of the rebuilding efforts, the trail system will help revitalize the built environment along these corridors while serving as a catalyst for new tourism and small-business investment, and creating new connections to jobs, green space and key community destinations.
You can learn more about these benefits in our 2018 Rails to Trails Green Issue feature video, which highlights the work specifically taking place in East and Northeast Houston.
A prime example of the Bayou Greenways vision in action is the Brays Bayou Greenway Trail, which—running from the East End nearly 39 miles to the southwest side of town at Braeburn Glen (almost to Loop 8)—connects some of the city’s most notable destinations, including the University of Houston, Rice University, Hermann Park, the Medical Center, the Houston Texans’ NRG Stadium (the Astrodome) and multiple light-rail stations.
Making Natural Connections in the Lower Rio Grande Valley
RTC and many partners have been working extensively in South Texas on the Lower Rio Grande Valley Active Plan, or “Active Plan,” a project in RTC’s TrailNation portfolio. Eleven municipalities in Cameron County—one of the southernmost places in the mainland United States, located along the Mexican border at the Gulf of Mexico—have committed to the project, which will provide 400+ miles of multiuse and paddling trails for active transportation as well as to increase access to the area’s incredible natural resources. This includes a variety of wildlife and migratory bird refuges, resacas, beaches, wetlands, battlegrounds and a Sabal Palm sanctuary.
Last Fall, RTC staff and local partners invited local and state stakeholders and media on the Active Plan Tour, a weeklong event showcasing the area and the plan.
A New Star for Texas: the Lower Rio Grande Valley Active Plan
04/14/17 by Alexandra Becker
It’s estimated that the Active Plan will yield many millions of dollars in economic impact—not just from trail construction, but from tourism dollars generated by active tourists coming to ride and paddle the trails, and to use them to visit the area’s robust wildlife, fishing, birding and nature centers. The Bahia Grande segment, for instance, will pass through the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge and connect to the Palo Alto Battlefield National Park, site of one of the first battles leading to the Mexican-American War.
Moreover, it will dramatically increase healthy, active transportation options for residents who previously had few safe walking and biking connections—in a region that records disproportionately high rates of obesity and diabetes. In recent years, “the Valley” has been changing that dynamic, with increased investment in walkable community amenities—including the revitalization of historic Market Square in downtown Brownsville and an extension of the Historic Battlefield Trail, which currently extends from Palo Alto to Brownsville, and will be extended another 1.8 miles to Los Fresnos.
Boosting Economic Opportunities in North Texas
In North Texas, the Circuit Trail Conservancy is working to build out and connect four trails to create a 50-mile trail encircling Dallas, known as The LOOP. This project, funded from public and private sources, will create a trail network that connects neighborhoods to transit hubs and economic centers in 14 city council districts, amplifying the economic opportunities made possible by each individual trail in the system.
Also on the docket is the Northeast Texas Trail (NETT)—a link to Texas’ rural railroad past. When completed, the 130-mile stretch—composed primarily of rail-trail—will be the longest trail in Texas, connecting small communities in the outskirts of the Dallas suburbs to Texarkana on the Arkansas state border. Texas Monthly notes that rides can take Amtrak from Dallas to Texarkana and ride the NETT back “on a round-trip journey with rail-to-trail symmetry.”
On the Horizon in the Texas Legislature
With the Texas Legislature currently in its every-other-year session, RTC and the Texas Coalition for State Parks are actively supporting legislation to ensure that an existing sporting goods tax originally intended for parks and recreational space—including trails—actually goes to parks (and trails).
We’re also working with Bike Texas on a bill, House Concurrent Resolution 64, that would encourage the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) to favor using federal funds on trail networks that promote connectivity or span multiple cities or counties.
As a former Texas Legislature staffer, I’m enjoying getting involved with happenings under the Pink Dome in Austin once again—but this time without the rattlesnakes.
To receive action alerts when these bills are moving through the legislative process, make sure you’re on our list here, and follow RTC at @railstotrails on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.