By MARTHA McCLAIN
Special to the PRESS
Eva Garcia, project manager for the Caracara Trails plan, reached out to Laguna Vista officials recently, seeking a letter of support as part of its continued fundraising efforts.
Initiated with a $100,000 Valley Baptist Legacy Foundation grant, the overall vision for the 428-mile trail network is a part of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Active Transportation and Tourism Plan which is designed to leverage local economic development and encourage healthy lifestyles.
Included in the trail system plan is the proposed South Texas Eco-Tourism Center, a joint project by Cameron County and the Town of Laguna Vista, which will be created on 10 acres within the Town’s 23-acres of open land west of Highway 100, adjacent the Stripes store.
The overall trail network is sponsored by the University of Texas School of Public Health, the Legacy Foundation and the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council.
Caracara Trails is a vision for an expansive trail network designed to “link the rich natural, cultural and historical resources the area is known for and creating a unified regional identity for outdoor tourism, promoting healthier lifestyles and generating a new sense of community pride for everyone who lives here,” according to the project’s website.
The vision for the trail network is based on the Lower Rio Grande Valley Active Transportation and Tourism Plan designed to improve economic development in a county with one of the highest poverty rates in the country, Garcia said. And further, it encourages tourist spending that injects money into local economies, she said.
Caracara Trails is made up of 20 organizations and 11 municipalities including the cities of Brownsvsille, , Los Fresnos, Rancho Viejo, San Benito, Harlingen, Combes, Port Isabel, South Padre Island, Rio Hondo, Laguna Vista and Los Indios. The vision is to connect the communities through a system of trails for public use.
Garcia noted that the region has an established tourism economy, generating millions of dollars annually, with many visitors experiencing natural attractions such as South Padre Island.
“By leveraging its natural and social capital assets, the region will engage in a sustainable active transportation and tourism strategy that bolsters the economy and establishes the Valley as a world-class destination. When complete, the Caracara Trails will generate 3 million trail users each year and an additional $70 million in out-of-county visitor spending,” according to the Caracara Trails website.
“The Caracara Trails are comprised of 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 natural resources, cultural sites and geographic landmarks. With a focus on spurring physical activity, tourism and economic development, the trail network will provide safe walking and biking connections countywide, improving mobility and establishing healthier lifestyles for residents with some of the highest percentages of obesity and chronic disease in Texas. By creating a world-class regional non-motorized transportation network, the Caracara Trails will also establish the Valley as an international magnet for outdoor tourism, while preserving its environmental treasures and inspiring a new sense of pride for the region,” according to the website.