The Central Texas Hills and Rivers Region (CTHRR) Association met this past Wednesday for their annual meeting held at the Ed Davenport Civic Center. This annual meeting included a 2007 review by past president Lynn Foreman of Junction. Former president of CTHRR and the current Economic Development Coordinator for the McCulloch County, Wendy Ellis, introduced the guests which included Brady City Manager Merle Taylor, two county commissioners, and Mike Trollinger representing the McCulloch County Industrial Foundation. This organization consists of five local counties which include Concho, Kimble, McCulloch, Menard, and San Saba Counties. The board of directors consists of three persons from each county and four officers. Lynn Foreman made the introduction of the new officers for 2008 which included Lynn Farris of Brady as president, vice president Marcia Dyer from San Saba, Rod Gardner from Menard as secretary and Rosa Schreiber from Concho County as treasurer. Also introduced were the three representatives from each county some of whom were not present. Those counties and representatives are: Concho County’Sue Gipson, Lynn Foreman, and Jan King; Kimble County’Genora Young, Charlie Rogers, and Rosa Schreiber; McCulloch County’Wendy Ellis, Lynn Farris, and Danny Neal; Menard County’Rod Gardner, Donna Harbour, and Billy Kniffen; and San Saba County’Lynda Pack, Marcia Dyer, and Cindy Stafford. According to Mrs. Foreman, the CTHRR is a non-profit organization and collaborative consortium whose purpose is to proactively develop and encourage tourism business throughout the multi-county region of Central Texas via education, information and promotion. She went on to say that when Mrs. Ellis served as president in 2006 that she contracted with CTHRR and Geiger & Associates, who arranged for a tour of 10 journalists from different parts of the country who visited sites within the five-county area. ‘Articles have been written and published and will continue to be published for years to come about our ‘special place’ in the Hill Country,”said Foreman. “Not a journalist left this area without a wonderful story to tell about the people of our area.’ Three other major things occurred in 2007 with the organization. In June 2007, Menard County celebrated its 150th anniversary. The Texas Bike Coalition in Austin and contact person Mark Stine suggested an organized bike ride from Junction to Menard through Fort McKavett and back to Junction. A round trip total of 100.14 miles took bikers over rolling hills, through creeks where they saw plenty of wildlife and got fresh air during their trip to Fort McKavett and Menard’s Spanish Mission Santa Cruz de San Saba and the Royal Fort. Both groups agreed to this and the event was organized and carried out by CTHRR within five months. The event was a great success and both the local businesses and individuals agreed to participate in another bike ride. The city of Junction agreed to make this a ‘signature event’ and along with Menard County to host the event in 2008. They agreed this would be named ‘Tour De Forts’. This event is planned for May 17, 2008 starting in Junction. Another event the group started working on in 2007 and hopes to carry out in 2008 is a youth photography contest. The CTHRR wanted to sponsor a youth photography contest that would hopefully get youngsters to appreciate our ‘special part of the Hill Country.’ ‘Our plans are to have two contest locations with one in Junction and the other in San Saba. We will pull young people in from our five counties to participate in the city contest closest to them,’ said Foreman. The keynote speaker of the meeting was retired photo editor Mike Murphy of the Texas Highways magazine. He and his wife are the owners of a 400-acre nature and wildlife ranch located near Dripping Springs in Travis County named Los Madrones Ranch. Murphy spoke on the topic and question of How Does the Development of Ecotourism Impact Private Property Owners’ He told the audience of how his family transformed the 400 acres from a cattle ranch to a photographer’s and bird watchers’ paradise. He went into the various costs plus how landowners could make a profit in offering their property to individuals and interested groups. His ranch along with five other areas ranches in 2007 formed the Texas Hill Country Nature Photography Alliance. The five participating ranches include Los Madrones Ranch that is located 25 miles west of Austin and is a 400-acre wildlife conservation property; the Red Creek Nature Ranch ‘a 1,000-acre ranch located north of Junction which includes a two-mile river stream bed of Red Creek; the Petersen Ranch located in the upper reaches of the Blanco River watershed between Blanco and Fredericksburg where it is run as a private nature preserve; and the Laurels Ranch and the Turkey Hollow Ranch that are two adjoining ranches making up the Black Creek Natural Area which is comprised of almost 400 acres near Fredericksburg. According to Murphy the Texas Hill Country Nature Photography Alliance is a group of ranchers that offer their property to guests for the purposes of nature photography and tourism. Most of the ranches have several established photography sites with food and water to attract wildlife, and one or more professionally established photo blinds carefully situated for optimal photographic opportunities. Several of the ranches offer overnight accommodations allowing the guests a chance to enjoy the scenery with privacy. ‘The overriding theme is conservation,’ said Murphy. ‘People are moving out of the large cities and moving to the smaller ones near the metroplex areas. Counties like Menard and Concho will be looking to the tourism trade to boost their county income.’ Incoming president, Lynn Farris is looking forward to implmenting plans to focus more on tourism not only in this area, but the whole five- county area. ‘There is a big hurdle to jump in getting ranchers to recognize more than just deer hunting on their ranch. There are several more things a rancher could offer,’ said Farris. He thinks the future looks good not only in this area, but the other counties as well. Door prizes were awarded to those names drawn. The next meeting will be held in February.