Caracara Trails Active Plan Tour | Photo by John Faulk
Embracing Active Tourism—and Motivating People to Be More Active—in the Lower Rio Grande Valley
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.
The Active Plan is kicking off with six proposed “catalyst” projects that will form the backbone of the 75-mile trail network, which includes 57.5 miles of multiuse trails and on-road bicycle routes coupled with 18 miles of paddling trails.
Arroyo-Resaca Hike and Bike Segment
The Arroyo-Resaca segment links the cities of Harlingen and San Benito via two separate corridors: one that extends east from Harlingen’s existing Arroyo Colorado Trail at McKelvey Park—flanking the arroyo on a meandering route; and another that extends north from San Benito’s existing Heavin Memorial Park through rural farmland along drainage canals. The projected cost range is $7.2 million to $9.2 million.
Bahia Grande Trail Segment
The Bahia Grande segment provides a scenic connection between the Bahia Grande Unit of the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge and Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park. The trail route also links the cities of Port Isabel, Laguna Heights and Laguna Vista to Brownsville and Los Fresnos through an extension of the City of Brownsville’s Historic Battlefield Trail. The projected cost range is $11.4 million to $15.5 million.
Battlefield Extension Trail Segment
The Battlefield segment is an extension of the City of Brownsville’s Historic Battlefield Trail. Currently terminating at Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park, the Battlefield Trail extension would continue north along Farm Road 1847 for 4.2 miles to the City of Los Fresnos. The projected cost range is $4.3 million to $5.3 million.
South Padre Island Trail Segment
The South Padre Island segment provides bicycle and pedestrian access from the City of South Padre Island north to the undeveloped reaches of the island. The trail would be a separated facility that links pedestrians and bicyclists of all ages and abilities to the island’s pristine dunes. The projected cost range is $4.7 million to $5.9 million.
Arroyo Colorado Paddling Trail Segment
The Arroyo Colorado segment enables paddling—and associated fishing or wildlife viewing—adventures along Cameron County’s principal inland stream corridor. The Arroyo Colorado route links inland communities with the Laguna Madre and intersects portions of the proposed Active Plan trail system and U.S. Bicycle Route. The projected cost range is $500,000 to $730,000.
Laguna Madre (U.S. Bicycle Route) Segment
The Laguna Madre segment of proposed U.S. Bicycle Route #55 will connect Cameron County’s coastal and bayside communities with the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge. The route provides a scenic connection between the County’s principal tourism destinations and the crown jewel of the area’s ecological heritage. The projected cost range is $3.9 million to $4.1 million.
Queen Isabella Causeway Project
In addition to the six identified catalyst projects, the Active Plan identifies the Queen Isabella Causeway as a signature component of the regionwide walking and biking network. By widening the causeway and creating a dedicated, barrier-protected bike and pedestrian lane, an alternative access route would be created between Port Isabel and South Padre Island.
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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.
The total construction cost for the six high-priority catalyst projects, including 75 miles of multiuse trails, paddling trails, and bicycle routes, is estimated at $36.4 million.
Construction Phase: Economic Impact
During the course of construction of the six catalyst projects, the projects are anticipated to generate $14 million in labor income and $5.3 million in local, state and federal taxes, and have an economic impact of $56 million. Each dollar invested in trail construction will be offset by the economic impact of construction alone, yielding $1.53 in economic activity within Cameron County.
Construction Phase: Job Creation
It is estimated that the trail construction portion of this project will lead to 453 Cameron County jobs (and $14.3 million in labor income). In the 10th year after the trail network opening, it is estimated that non-local visitors will create 554 Cameron County jobs (and $16.8 million in labor income).
First 10 Years After Completion: Economic Impact
In the first 10 years, out-of-town visitors associated with the catalyst projects are projected to spend nearly $367 million in Cameron County. By the 10th year following construction of the six catalyst projects, it is estimated that non-local visitors will spend $39.6 million in Cameron County, generate $17 million in labor income, have a total annual economic impact of $57 million and provide more than $9 million in local, state and federal taxes.
First 10 Years After Completion: Health Savings
In addition to economic impact, the projected yearly medical cost savings to residents are estimated to be between $3,108,653.20 and $6,492,040.44.
- 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
- Fronteras Extra: Connecting 11 Cameron County Communities (Texas Public Radio)
- Brownsville Herald: Hike-bike trail study gets OK; Route would give access to Bahia Grande