The annual Keep Texas Beautiful conference was held in San Antonio last week with Keep Blanco Beautiful members Retta Martin and Martha Gosnell in attendance. Wayne Gosnell went along for comic relief. Some insightful and helpful information was gained about how other communities are working to preserve their “sense of place” and make their towns and cities places where people actually want to live.
As an incentive to communities across the state, each year the Governor’s Community Achievement Awards (GCAA) is presented to cities and towns that have had exceptional success. This year one such award went to our neighboring Hill Country town of San Saba. Among the city’s accomplishments was removing 280 used tires from within the city limits, scraping 185 junk vehicles, demolishing five dilapidated buildings, and successfully enforcing 45 code violations. Asked how they did all this in just one year, they said the key was having a new City Manager and a proactive Code Enforcement Officer. Of course, having a very active Keep San Saba Beautiful organization with broad community participation and the enthusiastic support of the mayor, city council, and Chamber of Commerce were equally essential. The GCAA award to San Saba carried with it an award of $130,000 to be used for community development and rehabilitation. Blanco has the potential to win such an award. Because we are smaller that San Saba, the maximum amount would be only $90,000, but that would be a significant amount for a community our size.
A young man from Throckmorton named Trent McKnight gave a most interesting presentation about preservation of the rural way of life. His talk was entitled “Why I Left and Why I Came Back.” In high school, he was elected National FFA President. He went to college in Texas and then received a masters degree in Comparative Politics from the London School of Economics. He served as an agricultural advisor to the U.S. military in Iraq and to the United Nations in Africa and is currently in a run-off election for the Texas House of Representative from House District 68, a predominantly agricultural district of 22 counties in North and West Texas. That is a lot to have accomplished by age 32! He came back to Throckmorton (population 828) from working internationally with an eye to improving his home town to be a place where people would once again want to live.
He founded the Throckmorton Beautification Committee and organized a group of ninety “Rural Young Professionals” from the surrounding area. Together they sat about the task. With the help of seed money from the local bank in five years they had raised $5 ½ million from local donors, private foundations, and government grants, all designated for rural economic development and community beautification. They cleaned up downtown, built new sidewalks, restored facades of buildings in the commercial district, refurbished the city swimming pool, built a community volleyball court, and began a massive project to restore the Throckmorton County Courthouse to its former splendor. Using strictly voluntary persuasion, donated equipment, and volunteer labor, they got 45 dilapidated structures torn down, to include one defunct service station and a huge rusty grain elevator. They had 150 junk cars crushed and hauled away. He related that the latter cost absolutely nothing as there are companies that will come into a town and pay $50 per junk vehicle, crush them, and haul them away free of charge. Total cost for the demolition and crushing was $50,000 – all donations! Their latest project is a multi-year effort to restore the old Texas Movie Theater in downtown Throckmorton.
This degree of progress in tiny Throckmorton is a testament to what can be accomplished when a community stands together, has a plan, and pushes forward. Throckmorton, a city not even half the size of Blanco, is a city worthy of emulation.
Stand-by for a report on Landscaping/Watering in a Drought and Grant Writing as well as a rundown on the fantastic GCAA Banquet in next weeks paper.