Heart of Texas-West Wildlife Trail Map Available

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AUSTIN, Texas — Nature tourists seeking the best spots in south and central Texas to see wildflowers, birds, bats, butterflies and other natural wonders this spring may want to pick up the companion Heart of Texas Wildlife Trail maps to guide them to prime viewing locations along the trail’s eastern and western branches.

The two-branch driving trail encompasses 55 counties, starting at the Rio Grande, crossing the Edwards Plateau and culminating on the rolling plains near San Angelo and Abilene. In all, the Heart of Texas Wildlife Trail features a total of 239 wildlife-viewing sites along both main south and central Texas highways and scenic back roads.

At stops along the trails, travelers can observe migrating Monarch butterflies and hundreds of bird species, keep an eye out for stealthy bobcats and javelina, relax in a nature lodge, view bison and longhorns, and even watch Angora goats being sheared. Among some of the more remarkable destinations along the Heart of Texas trails are the state’s oldest Spanish mission, its largest bat populations, magnificent caverns, prehistoric rock art, one of the state’s last suspension bridges and the worlds’ largest surviving herd of scimitar-horned oryx.

The Heart of Texas-East (HOTE) map was the first of the two trail maps to be published. The HOTE map, featuring 14 separate loops and 124 sites, hit the shelves last fall. It marks key natural and cultural sites along the Interstate 35 and U.S. 183 corridors from Laredo to Brownwood.

The just-released Heart of Texas-West (HOTW) map denotes 12 separate loops with a total of 115 wildlife-viewing sites showcasing some of the best spots to enjoy Texas’ world-class wildlife and unique cultural heritage locations on both public and private lands. Public sites along the western trail include several city parks, Lake Amistad National Recreation Area, five Texas state parks and historic sites, six state natural areas and three state wildlife management areas. In addition, the trail highlights dozens of private ranches, campgrounds, bed and breakfast inns and other nature-oriented business establishments.

A limited quantity of wildlife trail maps can be picked up for free at the state’s 12 Travel Information Centers, including the Capitol Visitors Center in Austin. The maps also may be purchased for $3 each through the Texas Cooperative Extension Bookstore on-line (http://tcebookstore.org/) or by calling (888) 900-2577.

The western leg begins in the brushy borderlands north of Laredo, roughly following U.S. 83 through Uvalde and skirting northward along the western portion of the Edwards Plateau to Junction and San Angelo. A side chute of the trail — the Rio Bravo Loop – heads west on U.S. 277 along the Texas-Mexico border, through Del Rio to Langtry and up to the Devil’s River region.

“What makes the Heart of Texas trail especially noteworthy is its diversity,” said Linda Campbell, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s nature tourism coordinator. “Even seasoned Hill Country travelers will be surprised to find new ‘hidden treasures’ along the trail.”

Campbell gives much of the credit for the trail’s completion to local communities that contributed funding for the project and brought together diverse elements in a joint effort to promote economic development and conserve habitat vital to wildlife.

For example, the new trail includes 17 sites on two loops within Kerr County and will greatly expand the county’s nature tourism efforts that have focused primarily on birding and fishing, said Sudie Burditt, executive director of the Kerrville Convention and Visitors Bureau. She noted how the owner of one Hill Country ranch even paid to install a gate that provides access to his property, providing motorists with a safe spot to pull off a narrow farm road to scan nearby cliffs for nesting bald and golden eagles.

The Kerrville tourism official is especially excited about two canoe trails that represent “places that typically have not been used for tourism and recreation.” Site No. 75 — East Kerr County Canoe Trail – for instance, directs canoeists to put-in and take-out spots to easily access the nature-rich Guadalupe River for a 3.5-mile float.

The opening of the Heart of Texas Wildlife Trail comes on the heels of the Panhandle Plains Wildlife Trail that kicked off in August. A third wildlife trail, the Prairie and Pineywoods Trail, is on the drawing boards. TPWD and local communities developed the Heart of Texas and Panhandle Plains trails using almost $1 million in federal transportation funds funneled through the Texas Transportation Commission, and $237,120 in matching funds from corporations, foundations, local communities and conservation groups.

The wildlife trail maps, which list wildlife-viewing sites that correspond to numbered brown roadside signs illustrated with the trails’ roadrunner logo, help lift the veil on a number of “hidden jewels” where wildflowers, artesian springs, rivers, bats, birds and butterflies abound. The Texas Department of Transportation will be erecting trail signs in coming months.

The colorful trail maps detail what outstanding natural and cultural highlights exist at each locale and provide directions to the sites organized by color-coded trail segments, or loops, such as the Balcones Loop, Nueces Loop and Pedernales Valley Loop. Geometric symbols denote whether a particular viewing site opens seasonally or daily, charges a fee, offers overnight accommodations, allows day use only or requires prior consent for property access. In some cases, phone numbers are provided for obtaining directions and other information.

The Great Texas Wildlife Trails are patterned after the nation’s first wildlife-viewing trail, the $1.4 million Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail, which designated 310 marked bird and wildlife-viewing hotspots along 700 miles of roadway in 41 coastal counties. For more information about the Great Texas Wildlife Trails, call (512) 389-4396, or visit the Web site (http://tpwd.texas.gov/birdingtrails/).