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Texas | Trips

The Crape Myrtle Trails of

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Article and photos by Janet Gregg

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In other words, the foundation’s board and city officials hope the trail will become a travel destination. And that could translate into big bucks. City leaders have only to look east to Tyler and Palestine for shining examples of how well similar trails have paid off.

Tyler’s Azalea Trail has been a travel destination in March and April for 46 years. Susan Travis, Tyler’s Convention and Tourism Coordinator, says the annual Azalea Trail does a lot for the city. “The 2005 trail had a total economic impact of more than $3.5 million dollars. More than 123,000 people visited our city during those three weeks in the spring, specifically to either walk or drive The Azalea Trail. It really is stunning.”

Almost simultaneously in Palestine, just an hour away, three weekends in March and April brought 30,000 visitors to the city for this year’s annual Texas Dogwood Trails Festival. Susan Leonard, Director of the Palestine Convention and Visitors Bureau says the 67th annual event brought more than $2.3 million visitor dollars into the city.

Leonard says, “I think it’s such an important festival for the city, from a cultural and heritage standpoint. But it also has a tremendous economic impact. It’s very important to our economy.”

McKinney’s not there yet. But the dream is alive and well and growing.

“Right now we’re only planting medians but we’re in the process of negotiating with the city of McKinney to house the world collection of crape myrtles. We would really like to have it happen by the fall of 2006. We’re still working out the details,” Owens said. “Nowhere in the world are all crape myrtle varieties planted in one place. McKinney is going to have them all.” The hope is that the city will have them all in an eight acre world class crape myrtle arboretum.
crepe myrtle blooms
Multiple colors of Crape Myrtles in bloom on El Dorado Parkway in McKinney.
There are hundreds of varieties of crape myrtles, but only about 100 are currently in commercial plant production. Brainerd says McKinney has planted 15 to 18 varieties. Dr. Raul Cabrera, Associate Professor of Ornamental Horticulture at the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station in Dallas, is one of three horticulturists in residence at the center who participate as liaison members on The Crape Myrtle Trails of McKinney horticulture subcommittee and regularly attend board meetings. Cabrera says, “The crape myrtle collection at the Dallas Center serves as an important research and education base for the Crape Myrtle Trails of McKinney. Many of the hybrid crape myrtle developments since the mid-1970’s were evaluated at the Dallas center before being released to the public.”

Cabrera is also leading the effort to create a comprehensive collection of crape myrtles at the Dallas Center. He currently has 45 varieties, all miniatures and dwarfs, which reach a height of 10 feet or less. By next year, Cabrera plans to add the medium sized varieties, which range in height from 10 to 20 feet. After that, the large varieties of 30 feet or more will be brought in to complete the collection. Cabrera says because this is a research project, there will be a minimum of four of each variety. With a goal of 120 to 140 varieties, he says that means a total of 600 to 700 crape myrtles will eventually be planted at the Dallas Center.

Cabrera also maintains a web site that features several sections on crape myrtle propagation, culture, management, history, terminology and geography. But he says the main feature is a searchable database. “It contains basic information on crape myrtle cultivars, complete but brief information on about 100 crape myrtles throughout the United States, with pictures and a listing of about 300 varieties total. You can input your information much like when you’re searching for a car online, by name, by size, by color and it will pop up varieties that match your specifications.” To view the web site, go to http://www.dallas.tamu.edu and click on “crape myrtle”.

Cabrera participated in the 2005 Crape Myrtle Conference on June 25. The event was hosted by the Crape Myrtle Society of America, the Crape Myrtle Trails of McKinney and Texas Cooperative Extension. The Crape Myrtle Society touted the conference as “…the most impressive assembly of crape myrtle experts in American history.” Cabrera presented the latest research being done at the Texas A&M Research and Extension Center in Dallas. The event was open to everyone, from professional growers and landscapers, to weekend yard warriors.

“This is the first conference that I know of that got together a lot of crape myrtle experts with both research and practical expertise”, Cabrera said. “The other unique thing about this conference is that all of the items on Saturday’s agenda were open to everyone. There was no separating the professional growers and landscapers from the average homeowner and consumer. So everyone got the benefit of all of this expertise. I really feel this conference helped dispel some of the incorrect practices as far as managing the plants in landscaping, and also helped get the word out about the many different varieties. There really is a crape myrtle for everybody.”
McKinney, Texas water tower and crepe myrtle trail
Crape Myrtle Trail of McKinney, with McKinney water tower in background.
Proceeds from the conference went to the Crape Myrtle Trails. Owens says, “The goal is to plant all of the city’s medians in crape myrtles, and there’s probably more than 100 miles of medians. We’d really like to plant along hike and bike trails too.”

Add to that all of the plantings by private citizens and businesses and McKinney is shaping up to be the next hot spot for tourists seeking mother nature’s beauty.

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