Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Coastal Captivation

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Coastal Captivation

Article excerpt

A park project along the Texas Gulf coast highlights the best of the area's natural attractions

Like so many coastal communities, Rockport-Fulton in Aransas County, Texas, celebrates its natural resources and maritime heritage. An active chamber of commerce features a festival almost every month to showcase birding, fishing, art, wine, sun-kissed water sports, coastal lifestyle and shopping. But it took a park project fueled by a monumental volunteer effort to bring it all together.

Aransas Pathways, a countywide ambition, aims to enhance, preserve, create and connect birding and nature areas, hike and bike trails, kayak launches and historical sites. The initiative is funded by a 2 percent tax charged at hotels, motels and lodges. More than 100 sites are planned to guide visitors through the area's charm.

Already established are about 30 birding sites, 18 kayak launch sites, 65 miles of hike and bike trails, and about 40 historical sites, and all are connected by a single marketing campaign and a unified information source.

Tom Staley, director of Rockport's Parks and Leisure Services, sees the project as a shared legacy that began with a single vision to tie together existing rights-of-way, railroad tracks and easements for a memorable and entertaining experience. It's like a tourism cafeteria, allowing visitors to taste Aransas County's many flavors.

The first step was convincing hotel owners and ultimately voters to take advantage of the two-cent venue tax. Following a grassroots campaign engaging community and civic clubs, county residents approved the tax in 2011 with 70 percent voter approval.

Partners in the project include the cities of Rockport and Fulton, the Aransas County Navigation District, Aransas County Commissioners Court, Aransas Bird and Nature Club, Aransas County Historical Commission, Aransas County Historical Society, Aransas First, Aransas History Center, Aransas/San Patricio Master Gardeners and the Rockport-Fulton Chamber of Commerce.

County commissioners appointed volunteers to the Aransas Pathways Committee, which decided how the money would be spent and established a working timeline. In the beginning, about 120 possible projects were whittled down to 20. The committee is working with a $2.25 million annual budget, with plans to amass additional funds through state and federal grants. But most funding comes from tourists' dollars. All venues are free to the public.

Staley's military background helped him convey some of the unglamorous aspects of public parks to an enthusiastic army of volunteers. …

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