BROWNSVILLE — A new U.S. Line Trail is set to open in about a week after a month and a half of construction work at the Palo Alto National Battlefield Historical Park.
An aging trail composed of asphalt was crumbling into its component parts, making it difficult to use for pedestrians or people in wheelchairs, Doug Murphy, director of operations, said yesterday.
“We tried to get all the trails here in concrete,” he said. “We put in asphalt trails years ago and the soil out here and the heat, they just don’t hold up. We had the two last trails, the U.S. Line Trail and the Mexican Line Trail. and I had actually put a priority on the Mexican Line Trail because it was in a little bit worse shape.
“But the way the funding came through they funded the U.S. Line Trail first,” he added. “Next year we’ll do the Mexican Line Trail and at that point we’ll have everything in concrete and I think it will be in good shape for a number of years.”
Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park preserves some of the site of the Battle of Palo Alto on May 8, 1846. This was the first major conflict in a border dispute that soon precipitated the Mexican-American War. The National Parks Service site portrays the battle and the war from the perspectives of both nations.
“They were pretty much done last week and then the contractor — he’s a good contractor — was looking at the concrete work and he wasn’t happy with it,” Murphy said. “He took out a bunch of concrete and they’re re-pouring it. So I think he ought to be done with re-pouring by this Wednesday.
“I think we’ll be able to open it up hopefully by the end of this week or early next week,” he added. “Early next week is probably the best bet. It will be good and hot out there then. I don’t know how many people will be going out there in that.”
Set for the future
Murphy said with the new concrete U.S. Line Trail, and finishing the Mexican Line Trail next year, has put the national battlefield “pretty much where we want to be.”
He said he envisions extending the trail system but with rustic trails instead of finished concrete.
“We try to make everything we have fully accessible because a good portion of our visitors are either little kids or seniors and we want everybody to be able to get out as much as possible,” Murphy said. “The problem with that is you don’t want to overdo it because then you have to pay for maintaining it so we’re trying to find that fine line between having enough infrastructure yet not having so much that we’re constantly pouring money into it.”
Pressure on the edges
Many national battlefields are being pressured by increasing development around their perimeters and, while the area where the battlefield sits on the road from Brownsville to Los Fresnos is mostly open land, it may not stay that way.
Although Palo Alto is on a much smaller scale than, say, Gettysburg, the same principles of historic preservation exist.
“Here we’re competing with lots of other businesses wanting to come in,” Murphy said. “We’re more worried about something like the Chalmette Battlefield.”
That battlefield is part of Jean Lafitte National Historic Park and Preserve south of New Orleans, and it commemorates the 1815 Battle of New Orleans.
“You go on the battlefield and this area to the east is just a big wall of oil refineries, that’s what you see when you look out over the field is oil refineries and boats coming in,” he said. “We’d like to preserve at least the core of the field here and keep it from being built up. It’s going to get developed around the edges but if we can keep right there in the middle it will be a lot better experience.”
Toward that end, Murphy said the park is seeking to add more land to its portfolio.
“Years ago we did the general management plan laying out the whole vision of what we’re going to have,” he said. “The part that remains is there’s still a chunk of land in the middle of the park that we don’t own yet, and we would like to get that and preserve it, because development is heading northward and we don’t want a big factory sitting out there.”