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Highland Lakes Tourist Association


I was new at the Austin Chamber of Commerce. I had been hired to be the Manager of the Membership Department. That meant that I was supposed to raise the money to operate the organization. This appeared to me to be a pretty big task for a guy that was just three years out of college. But if the boss that hired me thought I could do it, I was going to give it my best shot.

It was September of 1953 when I was hired. The next year the chamber took on the task of forming an organization to promote the lakes on the Colorado River. The lakes each had an individual name (Lake Buchannan, Inks, Marble Falls, Travis, Austin). Each was trying to do a little promoting, but mostly in the form of telling you why not to go to the other lakes. This resulted in a lot of negative publicity.

In 1954, Jim Luther, who lived in Burnet, "took" a booth in the Dallas Sports and Vacation Show. He soon learned that he needed something to put in it, except the few brochures that Burnet had. He called the LCRA who told him he could use a 12 foot long relief map made of plaster of paris. It was quite imposing, and weighed 1,300 pounds. But he also needed more hand-outs. He called the Austin Chamber, and my boss handed me the task. We called the other Chambers of Commerce in the lakes areas, and they supplied brochures. We decided to put one of each in an envelope, which turned out to be a monumental task. The show was 13 days long. John Babcock, the public relations man for the LCRA, and I were selected to go and man the booth. It was a tiring job.

But all of this had some interesting effects. The LCRA prepared a map of the lakes in brochure form. Andy Anderson, their graphics man, didn't know what title to put on it, since it promoted all the lakes. He stuck the name Highland Lakes on it, and sent it to the printer. The name stuck. It is still used today, although I don't think it's "official".  And, the joint activity brought the lakes together on a project for the first time. We decided to form an association to continue promoting together. Somehow, I got the job.

Along the lakes you had a few tourist courts, fishing camps, bait shops, and a few developers. My first trip was around the lakes to invite these folks to a free bar-b-que at the LCRA  Employee's Camp near Inks Lake. I started up the north side of the lakes and went down every little road that headed toward the lake, talking to every "business" owner and leaving an invitation with them. Problem was, where 1431 is now, I ran out of road. My graveled County Road had turned into a pasture road. I remember getting to a creek and having to drive up the creek bed for about 100 feet before getting out on the other side. There it was all pasture road until I got almost to Marble Falls. I stopped at a Drug Store run by "Gloomy Gus" (he wrote a newspaper column), and asked his help.

He said he would help, and followed me out to the car. Just before I left, he asked me why I was collecting grape leaves. There was a bunch in my back seat that apparently were stiripped off of a limb as I drove up the creek bed.

Very few came to the free bar-b-que. But we tried again about three weeks later with better results. And ultimately, this turned out to be the beginning of the Highland Lakes Tourist Association. It continued to operate out of the Austin Chamber office for about 30 years, when it had pretty much accomplished its original purpose. Come to think of it, I "pretty much" enjoyed the entire effort.

Vic Mathias - June 30, 2009