The Texas Forest Trail Region
The Forest Trail Region was the “Gateway to Texas” for Caddo Indians, Spanish and French explorers, Anglo pioneers, European immigrants, and enslaved and freed African Americans. Shadows of early Caddo and Spanish occupation linger, and the stories of Texas’ emergence from a wilderness to a great state unfold in the region’s numerous towns, many among the state’s oldest.
Spanning 35 counties from the Oklahoma-Arkansas border to the Gulf of Mexico, the region encompasses great stories of boom and bust in oil and timber, the early rebellion leading to the Texas Revolution, the El Camino Real de los Tejas, and the mystery and manners you’d expect from the lush, sweet spot between the Old South and the Wild West.
The thirty-five counties in our area are: Anderson, Angelina, Bowie, Camp, Cass, Cherokee, Franklin, Gregg, Hardin, Harrison, Henderson, Houston, Jasper, Jefferson, Marion, Montgomery, Morris, Nacogdoches, Newton, Orange, Panola, Polk, Red River, Rusk, Sabine, San Augustine, San Jacinto, Shelby, Smith, Titus, Trinity, Tyler, Upshur, Walker, and Wood.
Our history is only the beginning, however. There’s much to see and do with four national and five state forests, abundant lakes and rivers, the incomparable Big Thicket, museums and cultural sites, events and festivals galore, and spectacular spring and fall colors. The Texas Forest Trail Region is the perfect place to indulge appetites for history, culture, and nature, year-round.
History of the Region
Our state owes its name to some of the earliest inhabitants of East Texas. The Caddo Indians were an advanced civilization of mound builders with sophisticated trade networks. Tribes meeting Spanish explorer Alonso de Leon and his men in 1689 referred to them with the word “tejas,” meaning friends.
Even the spirit of liberty preceding the declaration of independence from Mexico in 1836 flared early in East Texas. Nacogdoches was the site of three separate rebellions dating to the early 1800s. After the fall of the Alamo, settlers from all over Texas fled their homes during the Runaway Scrape. Many headed toward the Louisiana border and took refuge in East Texas towns until word came of the decisive victory in San Jacinto.
Western expansion and European immigration brought many people to and through East Texas beginning in the mid-1800s. Most Native American tribes were driven out, but relative newcomers the Alabama-Coushatta remain on a reservation near Livingston.
During the Civil War, Texas chose secession. Passions ran high in East Texas. Some towns were suppliers and mustering points for the Confederate Army, and most lost a significant number of men.
Around the 1870s, railroad expansion in East Texas and the depletion of forests in Northern states gave rise to the timber industry. Clear cutting destroyed many old-growth forests, but eventually modern forestry and conservation practices were adopted.
When the Lucas Gusher blew in at Spindletop near Beaumont in 1901, the word Texas became synonymous with oil. In the 1930s, the discovery of oil in Gladewater and Kilgore brought fortune hunters as well as desperate families seeking relief from the Great Depression. Boomtowns sprang up overnight.
Historically, the Texas Forest Trail Region’s climate, natural beauty, wildlife, and abundant water attracted settlers and visitors. Today, the development of lakes, parks, and trails; the creation of cultural and heritage attractions; and the historic revitalization of many Texas Main Street cities make the region more inviting than ever.
To promote and support East Texas as an integral part of the Texas experience for residents and travelers.
All Texans can connect with their roots and visitors can experience the Texas story.
About the Texas Heritage Trails Program
The Texas Heritage Trails Program (THTP) is the Texas Historical Commission’s (THC) award-winning heritage tourism initiative. This economic development initiative encourages communities, heritage regions, and the state to partner and promote Texas' historic and cultural resources. These successful local preservation efforts, combined with statewide marketing of heritage regions as tourism destinations, increase visitation to cultural and historic sites and bring more dollars to Texas communities. This in turn supports the THC's mission to protect and preserve the state's historic and prehistoric resources for the use, education economic benefit, and enjoyment of present and future generations.
The THTP is based around 10 scenic driving trails created in 1968 by Gov. John Connally and the Texas Highway Department (now the Texas Department of Transportation) as a marketing tool. The trails were established in conjunction with the HemisFair, an international exposition that commemorated the 250th anniversary of the founding of San Antonio.
In 1997, the State Legislature charged the THC to create a statewide heritage tourism program. The THC responded with a program based on local, regional, and state partnerships, centered on the 10 scenic driving trails. These trails serve as the nucleus of 10 heritage regions, and include heritage tourism attractions and communities both on and off the trail.
The program began with the establishment of the Texas Forts Trail Region in 1998. Other heritage regions made a formal application to the program, demonstrating knowledge of area attractions and broad support from organizations and local government. The suite of heritage regions was completed in 2005 with the additions of the Texas Pecos and Hill Country Trail Regions.
The THTP received national recognition with the Preserve America Presidential Award in 2005. This award was given for exemplary accomplishment in the preservation and sustainable use of America's heritage assets, which has enhanced community life while honoring the nation's history. The following year, the program was awarded a Preserve America grant for developing the Heritage Tourism Guidebook and for providing heritage tourism training across the state.
We envision Texas as a place where:
- The diverse places of the Lone Star State are preserved and promoted for present and future generations.
- Visitors and residents delight in experiencing, firsthand, the real places telling the real stories of our state's heritage and cultures.
- The total visitor experience of Texas' diverse places stimulates local economies.
- Heritage tourism is a community-based enterprise that contributes to its livability and sense of place.