The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, which inaugurated the nation’s first wildlife trail 15 years ago, celebrated that Great Texas Trail plus the opening of the Far West Texas Wildlife Trail – the state’s ninth and last wildlife trail – last month with Tierra Grande Master Naturalist Madge Lindsay cutting the red ribbon at Davis Mountains State Park outside Fort Davis.
During a morning birdwatchers’ walk, Master Naturalist Carol Edwards alerted the crowd of around 30 experienced and novice birders to Cassin’s kingbird, northern mockingbird, northern cardinal, summer tanager, Western tanager, turkey vulture, phoebes, doves, jays, swallows, wrens and woodpeckers – more than 20 bird species in all.
On the patio of the park’s Indian Lodge, where the colorful new Far West Texas Wildlife Trail maps were displayed, Shelly Plante, the TPWD’s Nature Tourism manager, told the crowd that Lindsay’s attendance at the event was “really special” because she had launched the idea of wildlife trails 15 years ago.
“She’s really a mover and shaker for nature tourism in Texas,” Plante said. “She is the person, along with Ted Eubanks (formerly of TPWD and now head of his nature consulting firm, Fermata Inc.) who thought of wildlife trails.”
Lindsay later explained that the first two segments of the Great Texas Coastal Birding trail were funded with money from gasoline taxes, and that the trails have “helped tourism all along the Texas coast.”
Plante mentioned that Texas’ success with wildlife trails also spurred the creation of wildlife trails in more than 40 states, all of them attracted by the fact that nature tourism can be big business.
Wildlife viewing in Texas attracts more than 4 million participants, generates $2.9 billion in expenditures and has an economic impact of $5.1 billion, according to a 2006 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service survey.
The new 27 x 36 inch color map of the Far West Texas Wildlife Trail points out sites at Indian Lodge, McDonald Observatory, Hueco Tanks State Park, Chinati Hot Springs, Big Bend National Park and the Franklin and Guadalupe Mountains, among others.
Similar inaugural activities for the trail were held at Monahans Sandhills State Park and Keystone Heritage Park in El Paso.
The trail, which passes through the vast mountainous reaches of West Texas’ Chihuahuan Desert and Permian Basin, features 57 wildlife-watching sites on 10 driving loops.
Sites highlight the region’s tallest mountains, grandest rivers, starriest skies, vast sand dunes, sprawling desert and some of Texas’ most iconic wildlife.
“West Texas is a huge area still somewhat unfamiliar to many travelers who don’t know where to go to see the best of what the region offers,” Plante said.
“The trail map puts all of West Texas’ cultural and natural resources at your fingertips.”
The map lists 10 loops – Guadalupe Mountains/Van Horn, Davis Mountains, Marathon-Alpine, Upper Rio Grande, Big Bend, Sanderson-Sheffield, Permian Basin West, Permian Basin East, El Paso Uplands and El Paso Rio.
The class of 13 novice Tierra Grande Master Naturalists – with five committees beginning their work on water supply, vegetation, maintenance, legal aspects and grant development – are taking part in development of the 1.41-acre Sandia Springs Wetlands project near Balmorhea on property belonging to Ellen and Don Weinacht. She is the current president of Tierra Grande Master Naturalists.
The new project’s aim is to provide an oasis for wildlife, a wetland in the desert that is expected to attract migrating shorebirds.
It could later be included as part of the Davis Mountains Loop, said Beth Nobles, also a budding Tierra Grande Master Naturalist and executive director of the Texas Mountain Trail Region.
Plante said the new maps are being scooped up by wildlife enthusiasts with such speed that a reprinting may be scheduled sooner than anticipated.
Source: Alpine Avalanche