The National Park Service (NPS) is in the final phase of a four-year long feasibility study and environmental assessment of both the historic Chisholm and Western Cattle Trails for possible designation as National Historic Trails.  This point in the study is called the public comment period.  It is a most vital cog in the wheel rolling toward Washington, because Congress will ultimately determine to make and fund the designation – or not.  Hearing support from constituents that it matters to us will certainly impact their consideration.

This past Tuesday, Alan Shiegg was my guest on the Discover Denton show on DentonRadio.com. Alan is co-chairman of the Denton County Historical Commission’s committee who has worked with NPS officials and representatives from cities all along the trail from South Texas to Kansas to help identify the trail's location through Denton County and ensure our inclusion in the project.  I shared the trail’s history in my column last week, how the cattle drives gave birth to Texas’ cattle industry.   "The Chisholm Trail played a major role in pulling the state and individual counties out of the financial devastation that followed the Civil war," Alan said.

Alan went on to tell why the National Historic Trail designation is important and what it can mean to Denton County.  “The trail crossed the entire county, from south to north,” he said.  “Recognizing and preserving this history will encourage new tourism to our area.”

Alan is correct.  “According to a 2009 national research study on U.S. Cultural and Heritage Travel by Mandela Research, 78% of all U.S. leisure travelers participate in cultural and/or heritage activities while traveling, translating to 118.3 million adults each year.  Cultural and heritage visitors spend, on average, $994 per trip compared to $611 for all U.S. travelers.  Perhaps the biggest benefits of cultural heritage tourism, though, are diversification of local economies and preservation of a community’s unique character.”  (www.culturalheritagetourism.org).

A 2013 Mandela study, The Cultural and Heritage Traveler, states that 76% of 170.4 million adult leisure travelers took part in cultural and heritage activities during vacations within the past three years.

The Texas Historical Commission reported that heritage travelers spent nearly $6 billion and created more than 52,000 Texas jobs during 2010, creating a return on investment of $3.8 dollars for every one dollar invested in promoting Texas heritage travel.

The NPS study is met with great public anticipation.  A grassroots preservation and promotional organization, The Chisholm Trail Association, has been working for decades to generate awareness and collaboration to properly mark the trail and provide a measure of interpretation for heritage traveler edification.  The National Trail designation will come with funding and NPS management that will be a tremendous asset in eliminating fragmentation between individual community efforts, a perpetual challenge since the association began its work.

The timing on the NPS study’s conclusion is a bit like a perfect storm.  In 2017, the Chisholm Trail will celebrate 150 years since it began in 1867.  Up and down the trail route, cities are already preparing heritage events and festivals that will commemorate the anniversary.

“Having Congress announce the designation in conjunction with the 150th celebrations will greatly increase awareness, even internationally, and highlight our cities all the more,” Alan said.

In Denton, we have witnessed the successful, positive impact trails and partnership with other cities can have on our economy.  The Horse Country Tour is one example, drawing 2,500 visitors aboard motorcoaches to Denton in 2014.  These visitors represent an economic impact of about $200,000 in spending in Denton hotels, restaurants and retailers, not counting actual ranch customers that sometimes result from the tour’s exposure.  And thousands more visitors are unaccounted for, preferring the self-guided tour on their own time and dime.

The Butterfield Overland Trail is another example, a partnership championed by the Denton CVB that connected 30 communities along the original U.S. transcontinental mail route with a stop right on the Denton square.   People love seeing real Texas today while at the same time understanding the historical context of individual places and events.

The Trail of Tears.  The Appalachian Trail.  The Continental Divide Trail.  The Natchez Trail.  The Lewis and Clark Trail.  These are a few of the 30 existing National Historic Trails most of us have likely visited or heard about.  Imagine having such a high profile, federally promoted designation stretching across our county, right in Denton’s own backyard.

It can happen.  Reach out to your Congressman before March 6.  Visit discoverdenton.com/blog and click on the link in my blog for detailed instructions on how to comment.