Boosting tourism, activity

HARLINGEN — Pedal your bike along winding trails, from historic battlegrounds to breezy shorelines.

Then hop in a kayak and paddle across the Laguna Madre.

In Cameron County, a group of cities is working on a project aimed at promoting the area’s bike trails and kayak routes to draw “active tourism.”

This week, Harlingen city commissioners approved a resolution adopting the Lower Rio Grande Valley Active Transportation and Active Tourism Plan.

Another resolution supports the development of a hike and bike trail across parts of the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge.

It’s all part of the project aimed at drawing cyclists and kayakers to the area.

About a year ago, Brownsville officials began teaming up with Cameron County cities to launch the project.

Now, Brownsville’s joined Harlingen, San Benito, Combes, Los Fresnos, Port Isabel, South Padre Island, Rancho Viejo and Los Indios.

Together, the cities pulled together $100,000 to help fund the project.

Meanwhile, the Valley Baptist Legacy Foundation funded a $100,000 grant.

In Harlingen, residents like Gene McCullough are counting on the project to tap into the fast-growing number of cyclists.

“I think it’s a phenomenal prospect,” McCullough, an attorney who’s part of the local cycling boom, said yesterday.

“It’s exciting — bike trails, kayaking trails. I think it has a lot to offer for the active lifestyle and it’s the right fit for our climate. You can do almost anything outside here.”

The group of cities plans to try to leverage more grant money to develop the project, said Ramiro Gonzalez, Brownsville’s special projects manager.

“Active tourism is very popular right now and continues to grow,” Gonzalez said.

Already, he said, biking and kayaking have become popular sports in the area.

“Birders want to take kayak trips,” Gonzalez said.

This year, he said, the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival features a kayaking tour.

Meanwhile, more birders are taking up biking as part of a growing segment of eco-tourism.

McCullough said the mix of biking and birding might draw more tourists to the area.

“Birding has become a huge tourism draw in the last 20 years in the Valley,” he said.

For the project, many of the trails are already waiting to draw more cyclists.

“They were chosen for scenery,” Gonzalez said. “Cameron County gets pretty scenic, believe it or not.”

Across the county, 97 miles of bike routes run along existing right-of-ways.

In Harlingen, the Arroyo Colorado Hike & Bike Trail would tie into the project.

Along the Laguna Madre and the Arroyo Colorado, the area features 10 miles of kayaking routes.

Across parts of the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, 17 miles of trails run across its Bahia Grande Segment.

In the Brownsville area, trails run to the Palo Alto National Battlefield.

“The whole idea is to get the communities to work together,” Gonzalez said.