El Camino Real de los Tejas National Historic Trail Association (ELCAT) has worked on a trail protection and development project for the last several years. The project was focused on the association’s property, which is known as the Lobanillo Swales. The site is a collection of seven remnants of the Royal Road in the forest of east Texas and was essentially a super-highway, with some swales measuring eighteen feet deep and twelve feet wide.
The project began in the Fall of 2013, when ELCAT conducted a crowdfunding campaign via Indiegogo to raise money to purchase the property. Over the next couple of months, over $28,000 was raised!
ELCAT then began talking with county representatives in Sabine County, Texas about when the property might come up for auction. The site was placed on auction on June 4, 2014 and ELCAT was able to purchase the property for a mere $4,100! Over the next several months, the association coordinated with the National Trails Intermountain Region of the National Park Service towards appropriate steps to take in the development of the property. In turn, this led to archaeological investigations being conducted at the property in the Winter / Spring of 2015. The archaeology demonstrated over three centuries of artifacts dating from the 1700s to the early 1900s.
Additional surveys were done in the Spring / Summer of 2015, and by October of that year, the NPS-NTIR developed a conceptual plan for the site titled, “Lobanillo Swales – Interpretive Retracement Trail Development Concept Plan.” The plan outlined a couple of development alternatives for the site, which ELCAT’s board of directors took into consideration in the coming months, as it moved forward with planning for the location.
By mid-2016, a development alternative was selected and interpreters from the NTIR visited again to survey the location and utilize their findings, and previously documented archaeological information, to create interpretive panels for the trailhead. Simultaneously, landscape architects from the NTIR were drafting construction level documents for amenities such as the parking area and trailhead. The landscape architect team then visited the site in May 2017, along with ELCAT representatives, and surveyed and staked the site for development. Lobanillo was on its way to being visitor-ready!
In November 2017, Sabine County provided labor and equipment to improve the roadway into the site and develop the parking area and trailhead. By mid-November, the first phase of development was complete!
The final piece of the puzzle was completed in April 2018, as the second phase of development at the site was finalized! Developments included the creation of a loop hiking trail, installation of interpretive panels, and installation of site identification and roadway directional signage to the site. The site was dedicated to the public on April 16, 2018 and the ceremony was attended by approximately 125 guests! Speakers included Sabine County Judge Darrel Melton, NPS Superintendent Aaron Mahr, ELCAT President Henry Mayo and Executive Director Steven Gonzales. Since its dedication, Lobanillo has been visited by over 100 guests per month!
Over the course of the project, with additional grant funding, ELCAT raised nearly $50,000 in funds for the site, and the association can demonstrate the protection and development of Lobanillo as a feather in its cap! More importantly, the effort is a textbook example of public-private partnerships called for in the National Trails System Act, and most importantly, the site will be forever protected for future generations to see, explore, learn about, and appreciate!