Baseball, bats, obits, no buts, and environmental action figure into this year-end wrap-up.
Looking back at the year 2000, one of the first things that comes to mind is the old Texanism about the weather being described as a long period of drought broken occasionally by floods. After 16 months of some of the driest weather seen since the last century, Austin set a new benchmark when it recorded 112 degrees on September 5, and then we ended the year with the wettest autumn on record. It's been one of those kinds of years.
The Houston Astros baseball club had a new, plush $250 million stadium and then went 72-90 for the season. Considered one of the most intimate parks in professional baseball, Enron Field was a home run hitter's dream, especially for visiting batters. Fans flocked to the new brick-and-limestone stadium to see the retractable roof and a full-sized, vintage locomotive chug along the left-field wall. Tours and a gift shop are open at the stadium year round. For information, call 713/259-TOUR or www.Astros.com.
The village of Lajitas just west of Big Bend National Park sold to telecommunications executive Steve Smith for $4.2 million. Along with 24,000 acres of rolling desert, the new investor got 90 hotel rooms, a restaurant and saloon, a row of shops, a nine-hole golf course, stables, an 80-space RV park, a trading post, and an airstrip.
In 1931, the boundary dispute between Texas and Oklahoma got so intense that the Texas Rangers and the Oklahoma National Guard were called to the Red River. Gov. Bush and Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating finally settled the issue this year when they agreed to setting the border at the vegetation line on the south bank, ceding the river to Oklahoma.
In September, the city council of New Braunfels adopted an ordinance banning alcohol on the Comal and Guadalupe rivers. The ban runs from the bridge at Gruene to the bridge at I-35 on the Guadalupe and the entire length of the Comal, where tubing and drinking are a summer ritual. It is unknown what impact the ban will have on the $200 million-a-year tourist industry. The ordinance was forwarded to the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, who threw it out on a technicality. To find out the current status of the rewrite project, call 830/608-2100.
It wasn't too long ago that the citizens of Austin were hoping to eradicate the bats spending the summer months under the Congress Avenue Bridge. According to a study released by Bat Conservation International, the bats generate nearly $8 million in tourist revenue. The nation's largest urban bat colony, 1.5 million at its peak in late summer, attracts more than 100,000 visitors to the Capitol City. For information, go to www.batcon.org.
The Nature Conservancy of Texas wrecked developers' plans for a resort on Padre Island when they purchased 24,532 acres for $7.5 million. The barrier island is home to 17 endangered species and is considered one of the most fragile ecosystems in the state. Access to remote portions of the island will be by organized wildlife-related tours.
Traditionally held the first weekend of August, possibly one of the hottest weekends of the year, the Texas Folklife Festival in San Antonio, moved to the first weekend of June. Organizers at the Institute of Texan Cultures said the cool decision was based on school schedules rather than the weather. The festival celebrates the cultural mix that makes up the state's society. For information, call 210/458-2300 or www.texancultures.utsa.edu.
Fossil Rim Wildlife Center in Glen Rose joined forces with Earth Promise, an international organization that supports global and domestic conservation. The new management agreement begins the transition from a privately owned facility to a not-for-profit, tax-exempt organization. Earth Promise pledges to expand the Center's education and conservation efforts. For information, call 254/897-2960 or www.fossilrim.com.
At midnight on December 31, 1999, the lights shone again on Pegasus above downtown Dallas. The symbol for Magnolia Oil Company, predecessor of Mobil Oil, was erected in 1934 on the 29-story Magnolia Building. It had been several years since the neon outline helped light up the Dallas skyline. The 50-foot porcelain-covered icon was restored as a symbol of the business district's revitalization efforts.
Dickie Ingram was killed in an automobile accident on Christmas Eve 1999. Although he may not have had statewide name recognition, Ingram was one of the persons largely responsible for protecting and improving fish habitats along the coast. As a representative of the Coastal Conservation Association, he was an advocate for conservation efforts that have turned the once-overfished bays and estuaries of Texas into the well-stocked envy of the nation.
Ila Loetscher, 95, known as the "Turtle Lady," died during the first week of January. From a makeshift stage behind her beach house in South Padre Island, Loetscher entertained tourists with her "Turtle Talks." By dressing up rescued sea turtles in costumes and gowns she would attract the attention of island visitors long enough to tell them the history and habits of the sea beasts. In 1978, she established the nonprofit Sea Turtle Inc., an organization aimed at protecting marine turtles. Although she was born in Iowa, Loetscher was a Texas original.
John G. Prude, 95, passed away in late February. As patriarch of the family's century-old ranch outside of Fort Davis, Prude built the business into one of the premier guest ranches in the state where city slickers ride on cattle drives, eat from chuck wagons, and sing cowboy songs around a campfire. His parents started the ranch in 1895 and began serving guests in 1921. The ranch became a state historical site in 1997.
As a 16-year-old, Jack R. Maguire landed his first newspaper job in Denison by covering a speech given by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. For the next 64 years, as an Associated Press reporter, freelance writer, and as head of the Institute of Texan Cultures, Maguire wrote about Texas. His byline appeared on nine bestselling books about Texas or railroads, and his popular "Talk of Texas" column ran in several newspapers around the state. He passed away in August at the age of 80 at his home in Fredericksburg.
My thanks to Ann Kelton, editor of Texas Travel Log, for her assistance in compiling this year's list.