EL PASO, Texas - The first-artist named heritage trail in the state will be named after an El Paso legend, Tom Lea.
The announcement comes after legislation was passed by Governor Greg Abbott in Texas this summer. Thursday, advocates gathered to help make the announcement.
"This is an opportunity using El Paso as the base, to try to get people to follow that trail. to reach out to experience those places that they wouldn't otherwise know and in some of the smaller communities in Texas, we're going to be able to help people understand what they don't even realize they have," Bradford Patterson with the Texas Historical Commission said.
A map on the Tom Lea Institute website shows a map that includes New Mexico and Texas, areas that Tom Lea lived and worked and left his mark.The recent legislation will specifically create a trail that will connect 11 Texas cities including: Odessa, Seymour, Dallas, Waco, College Station, Galveston, Austin, Fredericksburg, Kingsville, Hebbronville and El Paso.While the design process is in the early stages, the trail will include six large scale murals painted by Tom Lea.
"It is important because it places us ont he map as a city that values culture, that values our heritage, and certainly promotes tourism heritage which I'm big on because of the jobs and the economic development that it inspires," Senator Jose Rodriguez said.
Adair Margo, the founder of the Tom Lea Institute, was inspired by Piero della Francesca Trail which connects several cities in Central Italy. She worked with Senator Rodriguez who authored the bill and then worked with lawmakers to get signatures from those representing areas along the Tom Lea Trail.
"It's about experiences and not just, learning from books, which is so important, but books should turn us out to experience things and not just learning from museums, because museums are wonderful but if they turn us out to experience things, it doesn't replace live experiences. That's what this is about," Margo told ABC-7.
The goal of the Tom lea Institute is to work with lawmakers in New Mexico to extend the trail and connect Ciudad Juarez, Mesilla, Las Cruces and Santa Fe.
While Sen. Rodriguez and Margo, two prominent El Pasoans, worked together to create the Tom Lea Trail, they are on opposite sides on the downtown arena and the preservation of the Duranguito neighborhood. The city selected the area south of the Convention Center to build the $180,000,000 multi-purpose performing arts and entertainment center and its future is in limbo.
"El Paso has great neighborhoods and certainly Duranguito is at the top because it was the first neighborhood in El Paso, this was where El Paso was first founded," Sen. Rodriguez said.
Senator Rodriguez was one of several who took the podium Thursday to discuss the importance of establishing the Tom Lea Trail. He also took a moment to discuss the preservation of all history--including Duranguito.
"How can you explain to your kids, your grandkids down the line that we tore down the first neighborhood in El Paso, which was Duranguito."
"Of course we want to preserve our history, all of it, but you can't preserve it without investing in an area," Margo told ABC-7
Margo, who is the mayor's wife, recently took Rodriguez to an architectural firm to view renderings of what the downtown arena could look like in Duranguito.
"Like any other architect design renditions, they look very impressive. But the bottom line is the arena is smack in the middle of these buildings that are the most historic part of Duranguito," Sen. Rodriguez said.
"When you start lawsuits, and just do demonstrations and you beat the drum, make the city look bad, and we're the champions of this, it really doesn't help, because there's no conversation. No one can see that plan," Margo said
Rodriguez says he still sees the potential of a thriving and revamped Duranguito neighborhood, but Margo tells ABC-7 she believes in the possibility of both.
"My vision of it, and we have different visions I understand that, of a thriving neighborhood, which El Paso started out supporting when it applied for federal grant monies, to spruce up Duranguito," Sen. Rodriguez said.
"We have always come together, people of different races, different countries, to make our city better and we need both. So we need an arena, we need something to bring life into that area, but it's going to preserve," Margo said.
The architectural firm that worked on that preliminary rendering of the arena is called In*Situ. ABC-7 is told city council has not seen the renderings. Due to the lawsuits the process stopped and legally, there can't be any contact between council and the firm.