Thursday, December 18, 2014

A&M Study: Texas State Parks Good for Economy

Tourists and visitors to Texas State Parks create an economic boost for nearby towns, generating income and jobs for local communities and growing the state economy, according to a recent study from Texas A&M University. In a nutshell, Texas State Parks:
  • Generate $774 million in retail sales annually,
  • Contribute $351 million in economic benefits, and
  • Create 5,800 jobs statewide.
“The take-away message from this study should be that the state park system is an important contributor to the Texas economy, particularly in rural areas and that the state’s net investment in parks is returned many times over as visitors travel to enjoy the outdoors and leave their dollars behind,” according to Dr. John Crompton, research team leader.
The study, also posted to the Texas Parks and Wildlife blog, surveyed nearly 14,000 state park visitors between March and June of 2014 and found that purchases made by park visitors result in greater wealth and employment in communities located near state parks.
Some of the findings:
  • Balmorhea — $2.3 million in value added; 50.3 jobs
  • Bastrop — $1.7 million in value added; 35.6 jobs
  • Big Bend Ranch — $1.9 million in value added; 27 jobs.
  • Cedar Hill — $3.1 million in value added; 41.7 jobs
  • Garner — $6.9 million in value added; 16.1 jobs
  • McKinney Falls — $883,146 in value added; 16.1 jobs
  • Palo Duro Canyon — $3.7 million in value added; 86 jobs
  • Pedernales Falls — $1.7 million in value added; 41.1 jobs
Read the full Crompton study.
For more on Texas's state parks, check out On Politics and Parks by George Bristol and Texas State Parks and the CCC: The Legacy of the Civilian Conservation Corps by Cynthia Brandimarte with Angela Reed.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Biologists and Game Wardens Rescue Sea Turtles from Frigid Waters

When the weather turns cold for long periods of time, biologists and game wardens prepare for freezing water temperatures to affect wildlife along the coast.

In 2011, more than 800 green sea turtles were rescued during one of the longest cold spells in decades in South Texas. The good news is that the large number means that more of the federal and state protected turtles are making their home in Texas bays.

Texas Parks and Wildlife has this report: If you see a cold-stunned turtle floating in the water or lying on the shore, it may appear dead but chances are it is not. Experts say you should cover it with a towel and report it to the Sea Turtle Stranding & Salvage Network at 361-949-8173, ext. 226 or page the Animal Rehabilitation Keep at 361-224-0814.

Check out this video from Texas Parks and Wildlife to hear about ongoing rescue efforts. To find out more about sea turtle volunteer projects and opportunities in South Texas and around the world, check out A Worldwide Travel Guide to Sea Turtles by Wallace J. Nichols, Brad Nahill, and Melissa Gaskill.

Friday, November 14, 2014

University Press Blog Tour- Friday

Today's university press blog tour theme is "Follow Friday."

Today's blog tour is featuring:

Thursday, November 13, 2014

University Press Blog Tour- Thursday

Today's blog tour theme is "Throwback Thursday;" a look back at an influential project or series.

Today the blog tour is featuring: 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

University Press Blog Tour- Wednesday

Today's University Press blog tour theme is University Presses in popular culture.

This blog tour is featuring:

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

University Press Blog Tour- Tuesday

Today's University Press Blog Tour theme is "University Press in Pictures: A Fun Look at the Press"

Today the blog tour is featuring:

Monday, November 10, 2014

University Press Week Blog Tour: Consumer Health Advocacy Book Author Discusses Collaboration

For University Press Week 2014, Texas A&M University Press sat down with Matthew Minson, MD, author of Prepare toDefend Yourself . . . How to Navigate the Healthcare System and Escape withYour Life, to discuss the genesis of his book and how it fits within the bigger-picture efforts of the Texas A&M University School of Public Health, which supported its publication.

Minson is the Senior Advisor for Health Affairs at the Texas Engineering Extension Service and is Adjunct Assistant Professor of Health Policy Management in the School of Rural Public Health at the Texas A&M Health Science Center. As medical director for Texas Task Force One, a FEMA and State of Texas urban search and rescue team, he has been deployed to numerous disaster sites, such as the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, the Columbia space shuttle recovery, and Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Texas A&M University Press: Your first book is essentially a patient's survival guide to 21st century healthcare. How does the message of this book align with the mission of the Texas A&M School of Public Health?

Minson: I think ideally. If you consider the core principles of health, which really is a state of being determined by: a person's genetics and biology, their behaviors, their physical environment, their mental and psychological environment, and access to healthcare, then the mission of the School of Public Health aligns perfectly.  My colleagues at the TAMU SPH are really impressive professionals that are not just committed to the development of students and other public health professionals, but who also are committed to the promotion of global health.

Press: How did this book project and series first come about?

Minson: Well, it certainly wasn't planned. I really wrote it, stemming from a sense of outrage and alarm. I had a rapid sequence of experiences in a—generally, very good-- healthcare system that illustrated an extraordinary need for some  healthcare consumer advocacy.

First I was confronted by a clerical person indicating that I had a balance due, which turned out to be an issue with their billing and accounting software. I am fairly informed, so I questioned it, and so was not out some money.

Right on the heels of that, however, I saw an older woman, who obviously was not wealthy, about to make a choice between paying "her balance", which she really did not owe, and being able to pay for food. I spoke to the clinic administrator about it and was told, rather dismissively, that I could "write a letter if I wanted". It didn't sit quite right with me and when my wife was almost a victim of three successive and nearly fatal medical mistakes a few weeks later, that did it. I thought, I can do a lot better than just writing a letter. I wrote a book.

Press:  In 2014, the Association of American University Presses is emphasizing collaboration. In what ways was this book the fruit of a collaborative effort and how is this of benefit to readers? 

Minson: I had a fantastic editor. Actually I had several. As I referenced earlier, I had the conecpt and the text, but the generation of the book was truly a collaborative effort with a great group at TAMU Press.  This is not just cheerleading.

I am kind of a tough critic of efficiency and effectiveness, in general. In another couple of years I will probably qualify for the title of curmudgeon, but these folks were amazing.

My principle editor, Dr. Gastel, recommended the cartoons and pointed out that my indulgences of anecdote and humor actually balanced the heavy, often daunting, subject matter of trying to stay alive and healthy in a sometimes daunting healthcare system. It was a great suggestion, and I think it helped make the book. As it turned out, I had written an online cartoon when I was a government employee--it saved my sanity, as you might imagine--so it lightened the book, and, I think, really made it.

Once it was in production, I found the editorial staff, the marketing group, and expertise I found at Texas A&M University Press to be really creative and gifted and-- as a first time author in this type of writing--really quite supportive and kind. Now, when the book is recognized or receives some kind of praise, I actually respond by saying, “we are really pleased.” I am really glad to get to explain that because I am sure there are a few people out there that thought I was just channeling Queen Victoria.

Press: In your various roles, is there a specific element of "navigating the healthcare system" that you find confuses patients most? What is it, and how do you address it in the book? 

Minson: Probably not just one element. Certainly the billing convolution baffles everyone. I really think the most dangerous part falls under with the medication interaction and medical mistake categories.

I mean, in my case, I nearly lost my wife Kelli for the stupidest reasons. I mean really fundamental mistakes would have at least put her in the ICU and could have killed her. That is pretty sobering. I think the most basic problem here is really all about communication. The way healthcare providers are trained to process information, the economic pressures to more quickly process patients reducing time spent in consultation, and the political and social trends in healthcare from provider compensation and evaluation just exacerbate the problem of communication. Communication errors lead to misdiagnosis, dissatisfaction, mistakes, and a lot more. 

My effort with the book was to change some of that or at least help the public be their own informed advocate or an informed advocate for their loved ones. The feedback I have gotten and the success of the book, I think, speaks to that. It's really gratifying that it hit the mark with people, but it also validates my initial concerns. I also get a kick out of the fact that they seem to like the cartoons. The really bizarre thing about that is that I was at a hospital the other day and saw one of them tacked up in the nurse's lounge. I enjoyed seeing that.

Press: Prepare to Defend Yourself . . . How to Navigate the Healthcare System and Escape with Your Life is the first installment of a planned series. What's next? 

Minson: So glad you asked. I am working on the next in the series, Prepare to Defend Yourself . . . How to Age Gracefully and Escape With Your Dignity. It really is about the promotion of health and the social dynamics of aging and what people can do to get through it with greater autonomy, control, and satisfaction.

Doing the research has been a real eye opener for me, and as one of the target audience myself, I was surprised at how many issues there are that can be addressed properly to improve the process of aging. I am really excited about it.

It's going to cover healthcare issues, sure, but it also delves into how to determine the progression of supportive needs as they apply to living arrangements--even architecture. There are also sections dedicated to social programs, exercise, diet, hydration, money, available financial resources, disability, and sex.

I decided on the construct of: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.  Life covers the health issues as defined earlier. Liberty addresses financial resources, where there are services and funding available, and how to qualify if you need it. It is all about independence and autonomy for seniors.

Pursuit of Happiness goes into the quality of life stuff like sex and even death. Actually thinking of something dedicated to sex and death sounds a little like I am writing about bull fighting or something. I guess that is somewhat similar to the tumult of aging. Additionally, it will have all the cartoons and goofy stuff I like so I think it will be a lot of fun. 

Press: What prompted you to take your book to a university press and to A&M Press in particular? ​

Minson: I actually really wanted a university press. Books like mine benefit from the discipline and goal orientation of a university press. This book was not about money or success in the conventional publishing sense. In fact it was stated that this was about public service. In fact, all my proceeds are going to health advocacy organizations. I didn 't think it would be right to profit from this. The press got that right away without me saying anything. The timing was perfect. The university's chancellor endorsed a concept of a combined health enterprise for TAMU, so the very spirit of the university system, the Health Science Center and the School of Public Health and the Press were aligned perfectly.
I have had great experiences with TAMU. It started with my involvement with disaster response as medical director for the search and rescue team, Texas Task Force One, and has progressed as the Senior Advisor for Health Affairs at the Engineering Extension Service, and then in the adjunct faculty position with the School of Public Health. It's a really great organization and the university press experience has been extremely gratifying.

Follow along the University Press Week blog tour today to discover more ways scholarly presses are collaborating:
University Press of Colorado: The press will discuss its collaboration with the Veterinary Information Network on a recent textbook, Basic Veterinary Immunology.

University of Georgia Press: The press will expand on the New Georgia Encyclopedia partnership, which includes the Georgia Humanities Council, UGA libraries, GALILEO, and the Press. The NGE is the state’s award-winning, online only, multi-media reference work on the people, places, events, and institutions of Georgia.
Duke University Press: Press author Eben Kirksey will write about the collaboration at the intersection of anthropology and biology, including his own recent collection, “The Multispecies Salon.”

University of California Press: The press will feature authors Paul Farmer and Jim Yong Kim and the collaborative work they are doing to fight the Ebola epidemic in West Africa.
University of Virginia Press: The press blog will feature an account of a collaboration between the press and the Presidential Recordings Project at the Miller Center to create Chasing Shadows, a book on the origins of Watergate, with a special ebook and website, allowing readers to listen to the actual Oval Office conversations.

McGill-Queen’s University Press: The press will discuss Landscape Architecture in Canada, a major national project created with support from scholars across the country and published simultaneously in French and English by two university presses.
Project Muse/Johns HopkinsUniversity Press: Project MUSE is the poster child for collaboration in the university press world, resulting from collaboration between a university press and university library. The press will ruminate on collaboration in the university press world in general, drawing on specific instances of collaboration among university presses from MUSE’s history.

Yale University Press: Mark Polizzotti, director of the publications program at The Metropolotan Museum of Art, New York, will contribute to a guest post to Yale UP’s “Museum Quality Books” series.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

D. Gentry Steele Obituary 1941-2014

D. Gentry Steele, 73, of College Station, Texas, went to be with his Lord on October 27, 2014.  There will be a Celebration of Life for Gentry at the Brazos Valley Museum on Saturday November 8, 2014 at 12:00pm. 

Gentry was born to the late John and Ethel Steele on February 8, 1941 in Beeville, Texas.  He earned a BA in Anthropology from the University of Texas and then a Ph.D. from the University of Kansas.  His first teaching position was at the University of Alberta, in Edmonton, AB, Canada.  He returned to Texas in 1979 to teach at Texas A&M, where he influenced many generations of biological anthropologists and archaeologists.  A true renaissance scholar, Gentry made significant contributions through his research in the fields of zooarchaeology, human skeletal biology, and First American paleobiology.  He retired and was named an emeritus professor in 2002.  

At Texas A&M, Gentry was an active and productive scholar, with many academic journal articles and book publications to his credit, including Method and Theory for Investigating the Peopling of theAmericas, which he co-edited with Robson Bonnichsen, head of Texas A&M’s Center for the Study of the First Americans. Gentry’s classic study The Anatomy and Biology of the Human Skeleton, co-written with Claud A. Bramblett and published by Texas A&M University Press in 1988, has been praised and used as a textbook in courses around the country.

Gentry also served as the general editor of Texas A&M Press’s distinguished Anthropology Series, which attracted books ranging from The Archaeology of Death and Burial, by British author Mike Parker Pearson; to Race?: Debunking aScientific Myth, by Ian Tattersall and Rob DeSalle of the American Museum of Natural History; and the recently published Identifyingand Interpreting Animal Bones: A Manual, by April M. Beisaw of Vassar College.  He was also one of the eight scholarly researchers who successfully challenged the US government for the right to conduct a scientific investigation of Kennewick Man, the most important human skeleton ever discovered in America, and was a contributor to the definitive book on that subject, recently published Texas A&M Press, whose lead editor is Doug Owsley, head of physical anthropology at the Smithsonian Institution.

Gentry’s longtime interest and talents in photography came to fruition when he and his wife Patty photographed and documented journeys into West Texas in Land of the Desert Sun: Texas’ Big BendCountry.  Later, he and Jimmie Killingsworth also produced a beautiful coffee-table book called Reflections of the Brazos Valley, also published by Texas A&M Press.

Gentry leaves behind his loving wife of 34 years, Patty Steele; his daughter Heather Steele Felty and son-in-law Patrick Felty; his brother John Steele, sister-in-law Peggy Steele, sister Patsy Uzzell and brother-in-law Bobby Uzzell; numerous nieces, nephews, great-nieces, and great-nephews; and countless colleagues and dear friends.

In honoring Gentry’s wishes, memorial contributions may be made to the D. Gentry Steele Scholarship Fund.

Please also share memories and tributes to Gentry at

Friday, October 31, 2014

The 10 Books Every Texan Should Read

In the November issue of Texas Monthly, freelance filmmaker, producer, journalist, and author John Phillip Santos shared his list of the greatest Texas books ever written -- also tapping a number of prolific Texas writers for their own selections.

"As a writer born in San Antonio, I have always felt myself anointed, or perhaps branded, by the conflicted literary legacies of the Lone Star State," writes Santos.

"That a canon of Texas literature notionally exists cannot be denied;" Santos goes on to say. "J. Frank Dobie first made the case for one in 1943 with his Guide to Life and Literature in the Southwest, and it was the pantheon of Texas literati that later inspired Larry McMurtry's curmudgeonly takedown of our letters in his essays "Southwestern Literature?" (1968) and "Ever a Bridegroom" (1981).

As publishers both of Texas literature and groundbreaking Texas history, Texas A&M University Press and the Texas Book Consortium loom large on many writers' personal lists of required reading.

Jeff Guinn, author of Glorious, listed A Texas Jubilee: Thirteen Stories from the Lone Star State by James Ward Lee (TCU Press, 2013) as one Texas book deserving a greater audience.

Set primarily during the early 1940s, the book is a collection of short stories about life in fictional Bodark Springs, Texas. Through these stories, author Jim Lee paints a humorous picture of the politics, friendships, and secrets that are part of day-to-day life in this eccentric little Texas town.

TCU Press, which has the reissuing rights to the late Elmer Kelton's famous "cowboy" novels, also received a nod on Guinn's personal reading list and that of Steven L. Davis, curator at the Wittliff Collections at Texas State University in San Marcos. Davis is also co-author of Dallas 1963, for his book The Time it Never Rained (TCU Press, 1984).

Of Kelton's novel, Davis wrote, "No historian will ever describe the Great Drought better than Elmer does in this novel."

Davis also selected Windfall and Other Stories by Winifred Sanford (SMU Press, 1988) among his favorites, saying the fictional stories depict the immense changes wrought by the oil boom.

Texas A&M University Press books -- and especially those dealing with Mexican American history -- were picked by several Texas authors.

With Santa Anna in Texas: A Personal Narrative of the Revolution by José Enrique de la Peña -- one of the first books published by Texas A&M Press after it was established in 1974 -- appeared on writer James Donovan's personal list.

Donovan, author of The Blood of Heroes: The 13-Day Struggle for the Alamo -- and the Sacrifice That Forged a Nation, called the book, an account of the March 6, 1836 assault on the Alamo from the Mexican army officer's perspective, "excellent reportage of the Texas revolution."

Cecilia Balli, an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Texas, listed Caballero: A Historical Novel by Jovita González and Eve Raleigh (Texas A&M University Press, 1996), a milestone in Mexican-American and Texas literature written during the 1930s and 1940s centered on a mid-nineteenth-century Mexican landowner and his family living in the heart of southern Texas during a time of tumultuous change. 

Also on her list was Tejanos and Texas under the Mexican Flag, 1821-1836 by Andrés Tijerina (Texas A&M University Press, 1994).
Tijerina's work focuses on Texas between 1821 and 1836, providing background facts for a better understanding of the exchange of land, power, culture, and social institutions that took place between the Anglo-American frontier and the Hispanic frontier.

Guinn, a fan of Kelton's western novel, also stated that he loved Lon Tinkle's book 13 Days to Glory: The Siege of the Alamo (Texas A&M University Press, 1996) as a kid and still enjoy it as an adult.

In the book, Tinkle tells the day-by-day story of how 182 men fought a losing battle but won for their cause an almost unparalleled measure of fame.

For more notable Texas literature and history, including works by noted Texas writers J. Frank DobieA. C. GreeneDon Graham, and many others, check out the Texas A&M University Press and Texas Book Consortium website.

Read Santos's full article here.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Historic Trees Stand as Witnesses to History

What better way is there to celebrate the Texas Forest Service’s 100-year anniversary than publishing a second edition of Famous Tress of Texas: Texas A&M Forest Service that recognizes 101 historic trees across the state of Texas?

Authored by Gretchen Riley and Peter D. Smith, Famous Trees of Texas is great for Texans of all ages. The trees Riley and Smith chose to highlight are not necessarily grandeur in their size, age, or rarity, but significant for the vivacious and rich stories associated with them.These trees were witnesses to and participants in some of the most notable events in Texas history.

Riley and Smith show how these tangible, living specimens are a bridge from the past to the present. While some have succumbed to age, natural disasters, or human development, you can also see how they foster camaraderie in a community, such as in the case of the Treaty Oak in Austin. After being poisoned in 1989, the catastrophe brought tree experts, the public, and members of the Texas government together to save the beloved oak.   

Chances are that most state residents live within an hour or two drive from at least one of these historic trees. Most of them are found in state parks or on other public lands for viewing. And while some of the trees discussed are no longer living, their sites and scenery are still worth visiting. Where these living icons once stood, commemorative plaques continue to memorialize their story and location.   

For a taste of what Famous Trees of Texas has to offer, read Suzanne Halko’s article “Tall Tales” in Texas Co-Op Power. Follow her journey as she visits locations, interviews residents, and learns about some of the lesser-known trees across the state.

Along with the new edition of Famous Trees of Texas, the Texas Forest Service also plans to observe its 100-year anniversary by planting 100 new trees across Texas. Perhaps these fledgling shoots will be the next living landmarks to nurture a new era of legendary tales and add to the already remarkable history of the state.   

--Gina Marie Wadas

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Chicago Native Reviews Fritos Pie: Stories, Recipes, and More

Gina Marie Wadas is the publishing intern for Texas A&M University Press.  She is a native of Chicago and has lived in Texas for a year while working on her masters of science degree in science and technology journalism at Texas A&M University.  Her previous publications have appeared in Science Editor and CVM Today magazines, and Women's Art: Women's Vision: Women's Voices Journal. She engages in all forms of writing and editing in both fiction and non-fiction literature. Writing this blog has reminded her of how much she dearly misses her hometown foods of deep-dish pizzas, Italian beef sammiches (or sandwich), and Chicago-style hot dogs.   

With the 2014 State Fair of Texas now underway in Dallas, anxious concessionaries are ready for their chance to fry up their unique and tastiest treats in hopes of winning the Big Tex Choice Award and exclusive membership into this deep frying community of winners.

Past winners satisfied hungry Texans with deep fried bubble gum, beer, banana splits, jambalaya, and butter. However, one past winner has had its food roots in Texas since the 1930s; Fritos® Pie: won the Best Taste category in 2010.

While this comfort food is a well-known Texas favorite, this Chicago-native had to pick several jaws off the floor when I asked, “What is a Fritos® Pie?” In order to learn more about what this treat had to offer me besides a delighted palate, I was encouraged to read the book Fritos® Pie: Stories, Recipes, and More (Texas A&M UniversityPress, 2011).

Fritos® Pie was published in 2011 by Kaleta Doolin, daughter of the Fritos Company founder Charles Elmer Doolin. This written-from-the-heart book highlights Kaleta’s family stories, recipes, and how marketing of the Fritos® Pie recipe, among other recipes developed by her family and company employees, made the company such a success. I enjoyed the author’s nostalgic collage of black and white photos of her family and hard-working company members in action, the vintage and modern recipes, and the patent drawings of the early machinery that made the delicious fried corn chips.

But the book is not all about fried corn chips and business strategies. It is also about the author and her journey to discover the father she lost at the young age of nine. She spent hours interviewing family members and former business associates of her father as well as researching the archive collection at the Frito-Lay Corporation. She discovered that C. E. Doolin was not just a savvy food marketer, but an inventor, agriculturist, and entrepreneur.
According to the book, Fritos Chili Pie was one of the first recipes given away at conventions as part of the Cooking with Fritos promotional campaign.

From the book:
It was chosen for this purpose because it used (and therefore sold) two Fritos products: Fritos corn chips and Fritos Brand Chili. The chili was produced by the company’s Champion Foods division. . .
While not a pie per se, variations in the recipe usually involve the placement and texture of the Fritos and even the vessel in which the “pie” is made. Sometimes it’s prepared as a casserole or started in a Crockpot, but sometimes it’s prepared directly in a cardboard boat, or, famously, in the past, when the bags were sturdier, in the Fritos bags themselves.

With my new Fritos® knowledge under my belt and several Fritos® Pies in my belly, I no longer feel like a castaway in the Fritos® Pie community. Perhaps now that Texas has deep fried one of their favorite goodies, I wonder if they will consider deep frying a long-time Chicago treat at the next State Fair: a pizza pie.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Keeping Open Space Open

The following article originally appeared on The Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation blog. The post was written by David K. Langford, co-author of Hillingdon Ranch: Four Seasons, Six Generations (TAMU Press 2013). David K. Langford is the former executive vice president of the Texas Wildlife Association and owner of Western Photography Company. He lives on the Laurels Ranch, his piece of the Hillingdon family land near Comfort. To go to the original post, click here.

While it is easy to imagine that rural Texans and urban Texans are separated by insurmountable barriers of concrete and experience, it's simply not true. We stand on common ground. As humans, we all need the same things: healthy food, serviceable clothing, protective shelter, clean water, and productive open spaces that are not only home to our essential natural resources and processes, but also provide beautiful, natural settings that restore our collective spirit.

In the chaos of modern life, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that these essential life-giving elements come from somewhere. Food does not magically appear in supermarkets. Water does not magically appear in our taps. Open space land does not remain productive casually or by chance. These things directly result from the stewardship of hundreds of thousands of committed, resourceful people who are operating ranches and farms across the state.

In number they are few. In fact, less than two percent of our population provides food, clothes, and shelter while keeping open spaces productive and environmentally viable. Standing together, they are the thin green line of people who provide the raw materials that sustain our lives and fuel our economy. Imagine how different your life might be if you had to take time from your day to grow your own food. The amount of time that writers would have to write, teachers would have to teach, lawyers would have to litigate, physicians would have to heal, and entrepreneurs would have to deal, would be drastically reduced. Productivity, across the board, could plummet.

Other countries likely will be more than willing to produce food for us. Being our food supplier would not only help their balance of trade in the global marketplace, but could also make us dependent upon them for our foodstuffs. If our dependence on foreign oil has been considered a major national security concern, consider the implications of ceding control of our food supply to foreign powers.

From the beginnings of our country, we Americans have pinned our eyes and our hopes on the horizon believing that unlimited land and the promise of the fresh start it offers lay just beyond the sunset. In Texas, we never suspected that our famed wide-open spaces could ever become crowded. And yet the state is filling up at an unprecedented rate. By the year 2040, it is estimated that the Lone Star State will be home to more than 45.3 million residents, almost 20 million more than called Texas home in 2010. Each and every one will require food, clothing, shelter, plentiful clean water, and room to roam. And despite this burgeoning demand, Texas is losing productive open-space land faster than any other state in the nation. Unintentionally, through fragmentation, we are dismantling the very engine that produces agricultural products, renewable natural resources, and environmental benefits.
Somewhere along the way, we, as a society, lost sight of the true worth of open space land and began using attributes like location, access, development possibilities, condition, terms, investment potential, and comparables to establish marketplace values. In the process, we inadvertently created a system that encourages land to be broken up and sold in small pieces, instead of conserved, managed, and kept intact.

We are reaching a point in Texas where simply standing on common ground is not enough. The lives of urban and rural Texans are irreversibly intertwined, so we must all join forces to create and define initiatives and policies that conserve the common good, while protecting the heritage of private landowners.

Collectively, we can strengthen the lines of communication between urban and rural Texans. Collectively, we can help redefine the value of open-space land, recognizing that societal benefits such as clean water and air may trump the financial benefits of future development. Collectively, we can refine traditional solutions and explore creative ideas for addressing challenges like our state’s looming water crisis.

As historical and recent droughts have proven, water is our most precious resource. Too often it is in short supply. But our open spaces offer the promise of common sense solutions. As former President Lyndon Baines Johnson, a native of the Texas Hill Country, noted, “Saving the water and the soil must start where the first raindrop falls.”

As LBJ did, we must all understand that in Texas, virtually every drop of our ground and surface water supply originates with rain that falls on the land, and is then captured by a complex, large-scale processes involving plants, soil, and animals. When these processes function optimally, floods are reduced, aquifers are replenished, and water is released more slowly and steadily into streams, rivers, lakes, and eventually our bays and estuaries. If the land is in good condition, the quality and quantity of water—both surface and underground—available to all citizens reflect that condition.

While land stewards cannot make more rain, their efforts can make more out of what we have. By managing and improving the watershed’s condition, they help replenish both surface and underground water sources and ensure adequate instream and environmental flows. Their stewardship affects the water supply at its origins, not just at its destination.

Well-managed land is the greatest water supply enhancement tool on the planet. With adequate and appropriate vegetative cover, land is nature’s sponge. In Texas, open space covers almost 150 million acres. When the objective is making the most of every drop that falls from the sky, a sponge of this magnitude, and the land stewards who keep it functional, are essential to our way of life, no matter where we live.

Whether our roots are planted in the soil or our foundations are built on concrete, we must come to understand that as the land goes, so goes the water—and life as we know it. Building on this shared understanding, we can manage our natural resources so that our future is both bright and sustainable.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Ghost Towns Offer Glimpse into the Past

About a mile up an unnamed gravel road inside Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the back way into an abandoned neighborhood and hotel, some of which was originally constructed more than 100 years ago.

In the fully edited film below, "Tennessee Wonderland", hiker Jordan Liles explores the houses and the remains of what was once referred to as the Wonderland Club.

A piece in the Huffington Post Roadtrippers blog documents the abandoned town Liles spotted during his hike.

Ghost towns dot the landscape all across the southwestern United States, once-thriving cultural hubs abandoned and left in shambles.

In an Associated Press article that appeared Sunday, writer John Marshall highlights a handful of other popular ghost towns in the Southwest, many of which are still fairly well preserved and offer visitors a chance to see a piece of history -- even if, as Marshall writes, it is in pieces.

Among the towns he features are Death Valley Junction; California, Bodie California (located near the Nevada state line east of Yosemite National Park); Gleeson, Arizona (near the famous Wild West town of Tombstone); Rhyolite, Nevada (established in 1905 during the Gold Rush); and Goldfield, Arizona (featuring Old West gunfights, gold panning and rides on Arizona's only narrow-gauge train).

Can't get enough? Check out Thurber, Texas -- former home to coal miners and brick plant workers from Italy, Poland, and as many as 14 European nations, not to mention the many Mexican immigrants who came to the area.

Located 75 miles west of Fort Worth, Thurber was -- between 1888 and 1921 -- one of the largest producers of bituminous coal in Texas and the largest company town in the state with a population of over 10,000.

The city still boasts several landmarks, including the Thurber Cemetery -- which has more than 1,000 graves, the restored St. Barbara's Catholic Church, a restored and furnished coal miner's house, New York Hill, and more. A historic Thurber smokestack can clearly be seen from Interstate 20 near Thurber.[4] Also at Thurber is the W. K. Gordon Center for Industrial History of Texas, a museum containing information on historical Thurber (operated by nearby Tarleton State University),[3] as well as the historic Smokestack Restaurant, and the New York Hill Restaurant built on what was once the site of the town's Episcopal Church at the top of New York Hill.

Read more of on Thurber in Mary Jane Gentry's lively history of the city's rise and decline The Birth of a Texas Ghost Town: Thurber, 1886-1933.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Last Known 9/11 Search Dog Returns to World Trade Center Site

Bretagne, one of the few remaining 9/11 search and rescue canines, returned to the World Trade Center site with her handler Denise Corliss on the 13th anniversary of the attack.

"It's always a difficult time," Corliss told NBC's Tom Brokaw in an interview last Thursday. "It hasn't gotten any easier year to year."

Referred to as a last resort, Bretagne's job was to search for survivors behind workers in the immediate aftermath of the attacks.

"We would search an area, and I would report back whether we had found anything or not," said Corliss. "And, if we did not, they would come in and remove that area of the pile. It was concerning because you wanted to make sure you had a thorough search before they moved that part of the pile."
Canine handlers often have very close relationships with their canine search partners. Here, Denise Corliss shares some ice cream with her dog, Bretagne, during a deployment debriefing meeting.

Watch the full report here.

Bretagne and Corliss also appear in Bud Force's book Texas Task Force: Urban Search and Rescue. Describing what it takes to become a search and rescue dog, Force says the first thing is breed, although specific breeds are more a guideline than a necessary requirement for search dogs.

"There are no hard-and-fast rules as to what breeds make the best search and rescue canines, but it is generally accepted that certain breeds regularly produce dogs that are better suited for a life of working rubble," said Force.

In fact, FEMA produces annual statistics of which breeds successfully make it through its extensive testing regimens and become certified rescue dogs. Labradors, shepherds, retrievers, and other hunting breeds often are among those that make the cut. However, handlers also used pit bulls and rat terriers effectively during the World Trade Center response after 9/11.

Genetic makeup also is important, according to Force.

"Canines in the search and rescue field are asked to perform a very difficult set of skills, one that few dogs are capable of performing," Force writes.

During search assessments, dogs must be able to search two rubble piles, each 20,000 square feet, locating numerous victims. Once a dog has made it to this level and passed a number of other assessments, it moves on to advanced screening and testing, which includes finding six victims in three massive rubble piles in less than an hour with limited visual commands from the handler.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Texas Aggies Go to War: Belgium Museum to Tell Story of Aggies Who Fought in World War II's Battle of the Bulge

 Although the historic Battle of the Bulge is approaching its 70th anniversary, the conflict is not ancient history to the residents of Bastogne, nor do they intend to let it become so to their descendants.

"Their town is really a living museum to their being saved," John A. Adams, Jr. '73 recently told Texas Aggie magazine.

Adams is project historian for the "Texas Aggies Go to War" exhibition set to open in Bastogne in December -- an exhibit that will trace five Aggies from A&M student life in the 1930s to their post-war successes and struggles.

He is also co-author of a book by the same title upon which the exhibit is based, published in 2005 by Texas A&M University Press. Written with historian Henry Dethloff, the book compiles the impressive war record of Texas A&M.

The main objective of the exhibition, said Christophe Gaeta, exhibition designer, is telling the younger generation of visitors, including locals, that a soldier in a black-and-white picture is not just a soldier.

The Bastogne exhibit will feature displays on the lives, service and careers of Aggies Lt. Col. James Earl Rudder '32, Capt. Joe E. Routt '37, Maj. James F. Hollingsworth '40, Lt. William M.
Peña '42, and Lt. Turney W. Leonard '42.

Read more on the exhibit in the Sept.-Oct. issue of Texas Aggie magazine.

For more on A&M's World War II record and service, check out the biography of James Earl Rudder: Rudder: From Leader to Legend and Texas Aggie Medals of Honor: Seven Heroes of World War II.