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Far West Texas Wildlife Trail Debut Marks Milestone
AUSTIN – Some of Texas’ most remarkable natural history and most iconic wildlife can be found at sites featured on the Far West Texas Wildlife Trail whose debut this month completes a statewide wildlife trail system launched 15 years ago to bolster birding and other forms of nature tourism.
The Great Texas Wildlife Trail system’s ninth and final trail spans the vast reaches of West Texas – from El Paso to the Permian Basin to the Big Bend — and features 10 driving loops and 57 sites. Sites located along the 940-mile circuitous route highlight the region’s tallest mountains, grandest rivers, starriest skies, vast sand dunes, sprawling desert and an encyclopedic roster of much of the state’s most noteworthy flora and fauna.
The Great Texas Wildlife Trails system, which encompasses 953 sites along the state’s highways and byways, stands alone as the nation’s grandfather of wildlife trails. Following Texas’ lead, more than 40 states now have wildlife trails.
The Central Coast section of the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail, developed in 1995, was the state’s and nation’s first wildlife trail. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department partnered with the Texas Department of Transportation, dozens of coastal communities and private landowners to launch the initiative designed to showcase the state’s world-class birding venues and wildlife-rich sites, while fostering sustainable economic development in the largely rural communities located along the trail.
Nature tourism in Texas is 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 national survey of fishing, hunting, and wildlife-associated recreation.
“It’s only fitting that our state, with its unmatched wealth of natural and cultural treasures, has blazed the way for the nation to create thousands of miles of wildlife trails to provide the public with a convenient way to visit our special wild and beautiful places,” says Carter Smith, TPWD’s executive director. “These trails also provide economic incentives for landowners and communities to conserve habitats, while providing recreation opportunities for the traveling public.”
For the Far West Texas Wildlife Trail, TPWD joined with the non-profit Texas Mountain Trail and Texas Pecos Trail regions, both part of the Texas Historical Association’s Texas Heritage Trails Program, to solicit nominations from West Texas cities and towns for wildlife-viewing and birding locations and to help fund the trail map, roadside signs and other ancillary products.
“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,” says TPWD nature tourism manager Shelly Plante. “The trail map makes the vast area more manageable and provides guidance on where to go and how to contact chambers of commerce for information on where to stay and dine. It’s a wonderful complement to the historical commission’s Texas Mountain and Texas Pecos trail maps, putting all of West Texas’ cultural and natural resources at your fingertips.”
The colorful, 27 x 36-inch map points the way to such West Texas landmarks as the Franklin and Guadalupe mountains, Big Bend National Park, Indian Lodge, the McDonald Observatory, Hueco Tanks State Park, Wyler Aerial Tramway and Chinati Hot Springs. Each Far West Texas Wildlife Trail roadside site is marked by the trail’s brown sign sporting the outline of a scaled quail. Also highlighted on the state’s newest wildlife trail are top local and regional parks, nature-rich golf courses, nature trails and nature centers.
Travelers can refer to the map, which is marked with the 57 sites broken down into 10 loops, to find out which sites charge a fee and which are open daily and allow camping, are day-use only or require calling ahead of time to visit. Each site listing provides a synopsis of best spots to view indigenous and migratory bird species, as well as West Texas critters such as horned lizards, roadrunners, bighorn sheep, mule deer, bobcat and the occasional mountain lion.
The new West Texas map and the other eight in the state’s suite of wildlife/birding trail maps can be purchased for $2 each from the Texas AgriLife Extension Bookstore. The set of nine maps can be purchased together at the discounted price of $10. The maps will guide you to more than 900 distinct birding and wildlife viewing sites throughout Texas. Each map includes driving loops, and each site is designated with a unique highway sign and site number corresponding to the map. The maps also have information about the wildlife likely to be found at each site. For more information, visit TPWD’s Great Texas Wildlife Trails website.
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