By Nano Calderon, THC County Historical Commission Outreach Program Specialist
History organizations are tasked with cultivating a new generation of preservation advocates. Stewardship is essential to preserving and interpreting a community’s historic resources and heritage.
One way to reach larger audiences is through partnerships with area organizations and local governments. Partners share a passion for community, develop projects that bring together the best of each organization, and contribute to the goals of each organization.
An example of this type of dynamic partnership comes from the Aransas County Historical Commission (CHC), Aransas Bird and Nature Club, and the History Center for Aransas County. These organizations worked with their county and local governments to develop the Aransas Pathways Project.
Aransas Pathways is a system of trails designed to conserve, develop, and showcase the ecological, recreational, and historic resources of Aransas County. The pathways provide daily wellness opportunities for Rockport and Fulton citizens and enhance heritage tourism experience by leading visitors from interpretive signs to historical markers and landmark sites throughout the county.
“The grassroots efforts of folks passionate about history, birding, hiking, biking, and kayaking began as a way to link the historic, cultural, and ecological resources of Aransas County,” said Pam Wheat-Stranahan, an Aransas CHC appointee.
A main trail begins at the Pathways Pavilion and Bridge located on SH 35 North in Rockport. From there, visitors can read about the history and ecology of Aransas County and find nearby sites to visit using the Tule Creek Hike and Bike Trail. Maps of the Aransas Pathways are also available through a downloadable app, and at most area hotels, inns, and bed-and-breakfasts.
The Aransas CHC ensured that history and historic preservation was an integral part of the Pathways project. “[The CHC] identified and located over 50 historic sites on the proposed trails to be developed with heritage signage” said Wheat-Stranahan.
These interpretive signs focus on the local history of the seafood industry, hotels and leisure, harbors, and packeries. Landmark sites include the History Center for Aransas County, housed in the historic Bruhl-Paul-Johnson House, and the Connie Hagar Cottage Sanctuary, which is now a birding site.
Discussing the Pathways’ unique partnership, Wheat-Stranahan describes its diverse contribution: “This is a unique coalition of interests. Our wealth of historic sites, birding opportunities, recreational opportunities, and dedication of the community to their preservation are evident in the many organizations that have been established to preserve and enjoy them.”
The Aransas Pathways partnership unites organizations that advocate for the preservation of history, natural resources, and recreational opportunities. Community advocacy for the project resulted in funding from the City of Rockport, Town of Fulton, Aransas County, and the Rockport-Fulton Chamber of Commerce.
The communities’ personal and financial investment has paved the way to future projects. The Aransas Pathways Steering Committee is planning for additional hike and bike trails between historic sites, birding sites, and kayak launches.
“We felt that other counties and organizations could use some of these techniques to enhance their communities’ historic resources,” said Wheat-Stranahan. She and fellow CHC appointee, Betty Stiles, will share more about this extraordinary effort at Real Places 2020. Attend their session to learn how to help your community form partnerships that promote its historic assets, how to secure local taxes for additional funding, and how to engage volunteers and visitors to explore local history.
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