Trails Lead to Community Success in Rio Grande Valley Region: The Caracara Trails

The Caracara is a native to the southern regions of Texas. With its black wings, white-speckled neck, and orange face, they’re distinct features give them a beautiful and powerful demeanor when stumbled upon in their ecosystem. Rare in the United States, the lower Rio Grande Valley region of Texas is home to these birds, and is just as unique and powerful. A network of trails (428-miles of trails, to be exact) has been in the works for the Rio Grande Valley region of Texas, with the goal of creating a unified region that not only promotes a healthy lifestyle, but also brings in revenue through active tourism. The renewed sense of community will surely generate a new sense of pride for its locals.

When asked who created the idea for the trails and is in charge of the project, there’s only one person to look to—Rose Gowen.

City Commissioner of Brownsville for twelve years, Rose Gowen, a local physician in Brownsville, ran for office when she saw how much higher her hometown ranked in diabetes and other chronic diseases (one in three people were diabetic at the time; now, since her entry into office, it’s one in four). Throughout her time in office, Gowen has started farmers markets, community gardens, and more to help her community.

With health as a priority, Gowen knew creating a large network of trails would need more of a backbone reason besides “making the town healthier.” So, she did her research.
Gowen learned the term “active tourism” and saw other towns throughout the United States were using this concept to earn billions of dollars in tourism each year.

The City Commissioner figured each trail network needed to be equitable, touching as many locals as possible so everyone has access to jump onto the trail and use it. She did a study and hired consultants, where they found in their research that a trail network would provide an economic return and save up to six million dollars in health savings. Bonus, if you live within a certain distance of a trail, you are more likely to be active—that’s the facts.
A trail network would solve economic development problems: lead to more shops and restaurants along the trail, bring in more tourists, and overall, touch each community member’s lives in various ways. The project is the epitome of public health—bringing improvement and making a community more “livable.”

“I thought, why not Brownsville? Why not our entire southern region?” pondered Gowen.
She went straight to work, researching, partnering, pitching, and not giving up on the idea of a large network of trails, that wouldn’t just help the people of Brownsville, but Cameron County as a whole, in various ways – from income due to tourism to easy access for locals to use the trails for exercise.

As she continued her quest, Gowen found the eleven communities in the Rio Grande Valley were very excited and supportive of the idea of having a large trail network connecting each town within the region. That initial enthusiasm through various communities, donors, and organizations has made this dream into a reality.

A six-part plan was put into place, and is totally dependent on the receipt of funds.
“Our project consultants assured me that if we do these key six parts, everything else we want to accomplish will get completed. We’ve completed part one and are onto part two. Depending on donations, the goal is to have all the trails completed within the next ten years.”
Check out the six-part plan, here.

When asked what advice Gowen would give to other communities across the state who are wanting to do a similar project, Gowen said:

“First, don’t let the absence of money stop you from planning. Honestly, you will never just have the money to do this big of a project. We sure didn’t. The plan is most important to help you get the money. You never know when an opportunity will come along—so just be prepared with a plan.
Second, while planning is very important, it’s also important to find the sweet spot. The longer you plan, the more likely you’ll find a reason not to do it. Do enough. Don’t overthink it.”
How can you support this project?

“Get out on the trails!” said Gowen. “The best thing our locals can do to keep this project going, is to use the trails and tell others about them. Word of mouth, social media, all of it will help us keep the momentum going.”

After much consideration and through various focus groups, the name “Caracara Trails” was chosen.

“It’s a catchy name. It represents the whole county. It’s a unique, resilient, fast bird. It brings diversity. It’s perfect,” said Gowen.

Want to learn more about the trails and follow along with the project? Check out these articles!

Caracara Trails proposed network map
A Healthy Advantage: Expected Economic Benefits from Implementing the LRGV Active Plan
Economic Impact Study Fact Sheet