Pictured left-right: Jan Tracy & Duke Lyons
Historic trail continues providing economic impact
by Jordan Kitchens, Chamber Intern
It began as a trace through the woods.
Native Americans traveling from one settlement to another doubtless brought items to exchange with each another.
As Anglo, French and Hispanic pioneers expanded the trail to a road, they created their own forms of commerce – legal and illegal - connecting the East Texas frontier to the interior of Mexico.
El Camino Real de los Tejas National Historic Trail (NHT), or The King’s Highway of Texas, is now one of 17 historic trails established and administered by the National Park Service. It is the only one in the Lone Star State. The 2,580-mile- route winds finger-like from Mexico City through South Texas into San Antonio and Goliad, snakes along the Brazos Valley, then into East Texas and Louisiana. Much of the trail follows Texas State Highway 21.
Heritage tourists are now among those seeking knowledge and adventure along the trail, adding to the region’s economy. Historically, El Camino Real featured routes, missions and posts for armies and priests campaigning from Mexico to Texas. It was a positive economic feature linking the southeastern United States to Latin America, giving travelers the opportunity to trade, migrate, settle, explore and eventually fight for the land.
The trail today is a beautiful route offering many different heritage tourism opportunities. Following the trail, one gains a striking view of scenic and historic East Texas.
Two determined East Texans are encouraging others to promote and perhaps profit from El Camino Real. Former San Augustine City Manager Duke Lyons and Nacogdoches downtown business owner Jan Tracy recently met with business people and history buffs in each town.
Lyons, who established the first visitor’s center on the El Camino Real, has been devoted to bettering the trail since 1999. He is now president of El Camino Real de los Tejas National Historic Trail Association, which is headquartered in San Marcos. Tracy, who owns the Wildflower art gallery and antique shop on Main Street in Nacogdoches, dreamed of forming a trail-oriented merchants group, even before meeting Lyons.
“I have always been interested in meeting other merchants in towns along the trail,” Tracy said. “Last fall I thought of the idea to form an organization of merchants along the trail, sort of like 'sister' businesses helping each other by promoting each other's businesses.” Tracy visited with Samye Johnson, a San Augustine business person best known as the founder of the Pinto Pony cookie factory. “I told Samye about my idea, and she informed me that there was already an existing association at the city and chamber level,” Tracy said. “I decided it would be best to have a merchant's group under the umbrella of the existing El Camino Real Historic Trail Association. Samye and I met with the association, and they were very much in favor of this and gave me permission to pursue it.”
Lyons and Tracy set up meetings in Nacogdoches and San Augustine, inviting merchants to attend. They discussed developing the regional merchants’ alliance, creating marketing strategies and increasing economic development along the trail. Attendees agreed that businesses could best start by first joining El Camino Real de Los Tejas National Heritage Trail Association. Memberships range from $20 to $1,000 per year.
“The effort is just starting,” Lyons said. “It is a significant economic engine that we want to spread along the National Historic Trail. We have a long standing group of mainly chambers and convention and visitors bureaus. We have developed rack cards, lists of festivals, lists of antique shops and more. The merchants group will provide the information to visitors and shoppers supporting each other. We will include them in all trail activities.”
So what exactly is there to do on the trail? Lyons quickly notes the trail’s historic importance. “We must remember that the history of Texas started in San Augustine and Nacogdoches,” he said. “Each town along the trail has many museums and information centers. Most people don’t recognize the significance the trail played in the early history and development of our state. We will be working with the Texas Education Agency, Texas Historical Commission, National Park Service, county historical commissions and local government to further educate the public and publicize the trail's significance.
“The East Texas region has some of the best opportunities to explore our Texas heritage,” Lyons said. “El Camino is a fine example of what we have to offer the public. As business owners, what we can promote each other as we promote this trail. If we as, East Texans, encourage travelers to venture up here via El Camino Real, we will not only being doing our region good, but also Texas as a whole.”
To become a member or sponsor of the El Camino Real de los Tejas National Historic Trail Association go to www.elcaminorealdelostejas.org, call Lyons at 936-275-1036 or Tracy at 936-560-6569.