- Group wants everyone to know what El Paso has to offer
- By Erica Molina Johnson / El Paso Times
EL PASO -- Complaints that there is nothing to do in El Paso will be replaced by plans for rock climbing, hiking, biking and wandering through local gardens if a local group gets its way.
A new group spearheaded by County Commissioner Veronica Escobar has spent more than a year coming up with plans to enhance nature tourism by creating one place for visitors and locals to learn about what the area's outdoors have to offer.
"We are grittier and hotter and tougher than other parts of Texas, but that's a great and exciting thing for me," Escobar said. "Part of controlling your image is using your assets. Our assets are right smack in front of us, and we don't appreciate or value them."
The ecotourism idea surfaced in 2006 during a Creative Cities Leadership Project, at which community leaders gathered to come up with ideas to change the community in a positive way.
Escobar's idea was voted among the winners, and soon a group was formed that includes her office, the El Paso Convention and Visitors Bureau, Texas Parks and Wild life and other entities.
The informal group has worked to come up with a list of sites and activities that could be promoted, as well as local businesses that could also get involved and benefit from visitors eager to tackle El Paso's
"We are trying to provide visibility to El Pasoans and the outside world of what we have to offer," said Bernie Sargent, chairman of the County Historical Commission, Groundwork El Paso and member and officer of other community groups.
He said the claim that there's nothing to do in El Paso is always unsettling.
"A few of us shake our heads and say, 'If there's nothing to do, why are we so tired doing nothing?' " Sargent asked.
He said it is especially important to promote the area's natural offerings as thousands of soldiers move to Fort Bliss in the next several years.
"This benefits local residents, some of whom may have forgotten the places are here or may have never gone,'' said Gary Williams, program officer for the El Paso Community Foundation.
The group is working to create a brochure to provide the information in one spot for locals, newcomers and visitors.
The brochure is expected to be ready in about a month, and will be distributed at the featured activity sites and visitor centers. It will also be mailed to people who call the bureau to request information about El Paso.
"It's something we were missing," said Veronica Castro, director of tourism for the El Paso Convention and Visitors Bureau. "We didn't have a type of brochure that really focused on nature. We have beautiful outdoor venues and beautiful weather."
She said the brochure will highlight some of the city's features that are often overlooked, such as the Municipal Rose Garden.
Escobar envisions people who travel specifically to rock climb at Hueco Tanks State Historic Site will also want to check out some of the other outdoor offerings, such as Wyler Aerial Tram way, Keystone Heritage Park, Franklin Mountains State Park or the Chihuahuan Desert Gardens at the University of Texas at El Paso.
"It's always disappointing to hear El Pasoans talking poorly about our community and to hear visitors make derogatory comments about our desert because they don't understand it," Escobar said. "Just because we don't look like San Antonio or Austin or Dallas does not make us any less beautiful or interesting."
Eastsider Brandon Cano said he enjoys some of the local outdoor attractions, such as the zoo. He said he can see opportunities to draw visitors to local outdoor activities.
"There's people out there that do this stuff," he said. "It would be good for like the Sun Bowl or the Texas (vs. the Nation) game when there's a lot of people here."
Future plans call for a detailed, interactive Web site that would help visitors and residents plan their outdoor activities.
The bureau has created a page on its site to begin promoting nature tourism.
Escobar said that although her office is working on the effort, it is not spending tax dollars. She said many people are volunteering their time or using existing resources to help further the project.
"We've always envisioned going into the schools at some point and teaching the kids about these natural assets so they can be proud of the uniqueness of the community," Escobar said.
She said it is also the hope that the effort will encourage El Pasoans to go outside and engage in more physical activities than they may be used to.
"Right now our generation is looking for adventure. They're not so much into theme parks," Castro said. "They're more outdoorsy and we have beautiful weather in this area that can attract some people."
Erica Molina Johnson may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; 546-6132.
Get out and do something
These nature tourism sites are among those being promoted by a group hoping to drum up local interest and tourism from outdoor offerings:
Keystone Heritage Park, 4200 Doniphan.
Chihuahuan Desert Gardens, UTEP"campus.
El"Paso Zoo, 4001 Paisano.
Feather Lake Wildlife Sanctuary, 9500 North Loop.
Franklin Mountains State Park visitors center, 1331 Mc Kelligon Canyon.
Hueco Tanks State"Historic Site, 6900 Hueco Tanks Road No. 1.
Rio Bosque Wetlands Park visitors center, Pan American Drive at Riverside Canal.
Wyler Aerial Tramway, 1700 McKinley.
McKelligon Canyon Park, 1331 McKelligon Canyon.
El Paso Mission Trail, 1500 Main in San Elizario.
Ascarate Park, 6800 Delta.
Concordia Cemetery, Interstate 10 at U.S. 54.
Evergreen Cemetery, 4301 Alameda.
El Paso Museum of Archaeology, 5301 Trans Mountain.
El"Paso Natural History Museum, 9348 Dyer, Suite J.
Chamizal National Memorial, 800 S. San Marcial.
Painted Dunes Desert Golf Course, 12000 McCombs.
For more information about outdoor offerings, visit http://www.elpasocvb.com/nature_tourism.sstg.