Breaking in the new trail

TXDOT Deputy District Engineer Charles Benavidez, from left, Aransas County Judge C.H. “Burt” Mills, State Senator Lois Kolkhorst, Aransas Pathways (AP) Steering Committee member Earl Matthew, Rockport Mayor Pat Rios, and AP Co-chair De McLallen take the first steps at the beginning of the new Southern Trail.

Another Aransas Pathways’ (AP) milestone was reached Monday, Nov. 8 with the official opening and ribbon cutting of AP’s Southern Trail hike and bike project.

The ceremony was held at the beginning of the trail, located at the Connie Hagar Cottage Sanctuary (corner of Church and First streets).

AP learned in November 2017 that its Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) TAP grant application was approved, paving the way for the trail’s construction. The trail costs roughly $810,000, with AP responsible for 20% of the cost.

The six-foot-wide concrete sidewalk traverses South Rockport, connecting with other hike and bike trails in the City of Rockport.

Ceremony emcee De McLallen (AP Co-chair) noted the 1.7-mile trail enables one to walk or bike safely from South Rockport to the Tule Pavilion.

(Note: AP is in active planning for the 10th Street Trail. It will begin at the pavilion at Tule Creek, and run north through the Henderson Habitat to the Linda Castro Nature Sanctuary.)

“Pathways thanks TxDOT for the grant that made this trail possible, as well as for their supervision of the construction,” said McLallen. “We also thank the City of Rockport for their cooperation in the project.”

Aransas County Judge C.H. “Burt” Mills, noting where the new trail begins, said, “Every time I drive by this place it brings back memories. It has always been special to me for what it represents.”

He then introduced State Senator Lois Kolkhorst, saying, “Sen. Kolkhorst works harder than anyone I know in Austin. She is always in contact with us.”

Kolkhorst said additional special sessions this legislative session took a lot of extra time.

“I’m so happy to be back out in the district,” she said. “I thank the countless volunteers who have worked not just on this project, but all projects.

“I go out on pathways to take a little timeout. (The venues) are nice. You have all been through a lot since Hurricane Harvey.

“The rejuvenation going on in the community is great.

“You can thank state agencies (TxDOT grant funding), but there’s a lot of sweat equity and private donations (that makes the community take ownership of these projects).”

In closing, Sen. Kolkhorst noted her state of mind changed when she and her staff drove into Aransas County Monday.

“Revel in His glory and His beauty,” she said.

Prior to introducing Rockport Mayor Pat Rios, Judge Mills recognized County Project Manager John Strothman for his work with AP.

Rios said the Southern Trail project proves collaborative efforts at the state and local level work.

“We all do better when we work together,” he said.

“Now that this is done, I know (AP Steering Committee member) Earl (Matthew) has his eyes on many other projects.

Representing TxDOT was Deputy District Engineer Charles Benavidez.

“TxDOT’s mission is connecting you with Texas,” he said. “The completion of this project is in line with our mission.”

He noted the project is another example of Rockport’s resiliency after Harvey.

“Thank all of you for letting us be part of this project,” said Benavidez.

Prior to closing the ceremony, and moving to the trailhead for the ribbon cutting, Matthew was asked to provide an overview about AP’s history.

“AP was designed to connect green space,” said Matthew. “It’s history goes back to at least 1939 when five families gave 10 acres to provide land for a roadside park on SH 35. (That land) is now the centerpiece of AP.”

He talked about a grant the City of Rockport received in 1998, and how long it took to build the Tule hike and bike trail. That trail runs from the Tule Pavilion, along the creek, to Enterprise Boulevard.

Matthew noted that around that time talk began about creating a trail system for the entire county.

“We (predecessors to AP, such as Aransas First) walked a lot of roads to find possible (trail) sites,” he said. “The initial idea was to have trails (running out from a central point, the Tule Pavilion). There are 65 miles of trails outlined, potentially.”

He noted the trail plan was outlined prior to the creation of AP, but the public’s overwhelming approval of AP as a venue tax project provided funding.

He praised the cooperation of government entities, organizations, and individuals to bring AP projects to fruition, adding, “We’ll never realize all our drams, but we have to keep working on it.

“There are many AP sites and we would like to connect them all (with trails) as much as possible.”

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