© Bob Howen Photography
In 2011, a group of private property owners, local government leaders and managers of parks, preserves, refuges and historic sites along the upper Texas Gulf coast met to strategize about regional economic development and coastal resilience. On the table was a strategy to enhance Texas-led stewardship and conservation, develop an economic sector compatible with periodic flooding, and expand and promote nature and heritage tourism and outdoor recreation opportunities. From this grew the proposed Lone Star Coastal National Recreation Area and a related collaboration to enhance coastal resilience through regional nature, heritage and cultural tourism promotion.
Mission: Establish the Lone Star Coastal region as a national treasure that is a unified visitor destination and a point of pride for Texans, recognized for its unique cultural, historical and natural assets and experiences. Inspire tourists to visit in ways that enhance benefits to local economies and conservation. Increase the value and importance of the natural and cultural heritage of Matagorda, Brazoria, Galveston and Jefferson counties and communities within them, and support stewardship of these vital assets across the region.
Catalyst Projects & Priorities
- Develop an interactive travel website using a process that incorporates developing a shared vision, progress on destination branding, and coalescing stakeholder coordinating council.
- Offer NAI Certified Interpretive Host training enhancing residents’ ability to support businesses that employ them, inspiring young people about the travel and tourism trades, developing a cadre of local ambassadors, and paving the way for professional guide certification and a high school interpretation and internship program.
- Collaborative marketing/social media campaigns focusing on ready-to-promote services and experiences in birding, paddling, and history and culture, and establishing a model for collaborative efforts on other themes.
- Create new tour packages/itinerary products that can be sold directly to visitors and promoted through the website and social media, again working with ready-to-promote sites, services and experiences.
- Develop a themed auto tour route with wayfinding signage and interpretation, connecting ten to twenty related sites along a driving route through the region. This project will enhance interpretation at included sites, create a model for additional thematic driving routes, and set a standard for wayfinding through the region.
- Convene targeted stakeholder discussions focused on connecting tourism with conservation, cultural heritage preservation and open space protection, supporting small businesses and entrepreneurship, measures of success and evaluation, and other topics of regional interest to frame future programming and create an enduring structure for regional collaboration.
The upper Texas coast sits at nature’s crossroads. Major biomes of spectacularly diverse flora and fauna converge here. In addition to the Gulf of Mexico, there are miles of bountiful bays, barrier islands and ancient river deltas. Double canopy forests flourish along five major rivers and countless bayous. Coastal prairies, estuaries and marshes provide wide-open vistas of flocks of waterfowl and shorebirds.
Sneak past drowsing alligators as you float through watery forests draped with Spanish moss. Hunt waterfowl, deer and wild boar in season, or if you’re lucky, watch a bobcat stalk smaller game. If photography is more your style, join in the Christmas Bird Count – this region regularly boasts 3 of the top ten tallies in the entire United States. The bountiful estuaries and bays provide a multitude of fishing and crabbing opportunities, and seasonal hunting within the wildlife refuges and management areas abounds.
If you are looking to get out on the water, the upper Texas Coast is also full of options. Christmas Bay and Galveston Island Park offer many miles of paddle trails for all levels, whether on a paddleboard, kayak or canoe. For those interested in speed, the steady Gulf winds make this area ideal for sailing, windsurfing and kiteboarding. Into scuba? Dive the Flower Gardens National Marine Sanctuary, a coral reef perched on a salt dome just off shore.
Want to stay dry? Hiking and biking trails, paved and off-road, thread through nature areas. Annually, more than 1,000 bike riders participate in Bike Around the Bay, a fully supported, two day, 180-mile bicycle ride around Galveston Bay. You can also visit the Galveston Sea Turtle Laboratory to see and learn about the 4 types of sea turtles of the region, including the endangered Kemp’s Ridley. Or, tour the bay on a dolphin watch.
In 1821, the captain of Stephen F. Austin’s ship brought some of the first norteamericano colonists at the invitation of Mexico. These individuals were among those who would eventually help win Texas’ independence during the Texas Revolution. Many battles of the revolution were fought in this region – from the beginning, when some of the first shots were fired at Fort Anahuac in Chambers County, until the end when the treaties of Fort Velasco were signed in 1836 in Brazoria County. The colonists’ victory established the Republic of Texas, which was an independent country until 1845.
Across the channel between Galveston Island and the Bolivar Penninsula, Fort Travis sits on a strategic overlook guarding Galveston Bay. Jane Long, the “Mother of Texas”, wound up the only adult at the fort in 1821 during one of the coldest winters on record. Unassisted, she gave birth to a daughter, then resumed gathering food and firewood.
As Texas’ agricultural economy developed, a steady procession of ships from all over the world sailed past Fort Travis to reach the port at Galveston. Today, the Bolivar Ferry darts between huge ocean-going vessels that wait patiently in a line that stretches to the horizon. These ships are destined for Galveston and for the Port of Houston, the later being fully accessible only after 1910 when Houston’s mayor pledged was the first to pledge local funding to match federal appropriations for dredging in the first public-private partnership of its kind.
Galveston, once known as the “Wall Street of the South,” thrived until the Great Storm of 1900. This hurricane is still counted as the most deadly natural disaster in US history. Survivors buried more than 6,000 men, women and children, then literally raised the island’s grade level up to seventeen feet and built a seawall extending miles down the coast.
Texans have always been known for their unconquerable spirit. That same “can-do” attitude has driven the recovery from Hurricanes Ike and Harvey and the rebuilding of a more resilient region.