THE WAY I REMEMBER IT
It all started when the Executive Committee of the Highland Lakes Tourist Association decided to do something about “the deplorable conditions” at Longhorn Cavern State Park . The Highland Lakes Tourist Association was an association of the Chambers of Commerce of Burnet, Marble Falls , Buchanan Dam, Llano, Lampasas, Kingsland and Austin . I had helped to form it in 1954, and it was operated out of the Austin C of C.
Since Longhorn Caverns was a State Park right in the middle of the Highland Lakes area, a small group of us went to the State Parks and Wildlife Department to see what could be done to improve conditions at the park. We were told that it was operated under contract to a private company, and that their twenty –year contract would be up later in the year.
So, we asked them if the Highland Lakes Tourist Association could bid on it. They said no, because we were a non -profit organization-- but that the company operating the cavern was a corporation. As we left the meeting, I am sure that each of us had some ideas churning in our mind on how to solve the problem. Apparently most of us had the same idea—form a corporation from executive board members interested, and bid on the next twenty-year contract.
We did just that. The group was composed of Jim Luther, J.B. McDuff, Glen Anthony of Burnet, and Ed St. John and myself of Austin . We were successful in our bid. One stipulation was that we had to build a $125,000 new visitor center and administration building. That was a lot of money in 1965. Since the building was to be built on State Park land, we could not mortgage the building to get a loan. Each of us had to go to the bank and sign a personal note for our portion of the note.
We built the building-a fine one-which is still in use. It was built with rock from an old rock fence on the property. Glen became our General Manager, in addition to his teaching science in the Burnet school. I visited frequently during construction of the building, and noticed that people had nothing to do while waiting for the next tour that started each 1 ½ hour. Mona, Mark, and Matt were often with me, so we explored part of the 600 acres of the park, and decided we could make some nature trails starting and ending at the new building. This, we hoped, would keep people from leaving before the next tour.
We scouted the area for different trees, rocks, cacti and other features and marked them with strips of white cloth, which came from old shorts from the rag box at home. An old friend from Lampasas High School , Mac McLean came and identified the features. The family team, ages seven and up, cleared the trail, and numbered all the features. Meanwhile back home Helen also prepared a guide sheet that could be used by those walking the trail. I recall once, when we were going out to work on the trail, Matt wanted to bring his friend Paul with him. I told him that it wasn’t a good idea because Paul had no experience in the woods. Matt said that he would take care of him. We weren’t 60 feet from the building when Paul yelled. He had hit a prickly pear with the canvas shoe. As he squatted down, he wound up with stickers in another part of his body. He survived.
In our twelfth year, Glen Anthony died. We had an offer to buy out the remaining eight years, which we accepted. I figured it was for more money than we could have made had we run the place. A most interesting and profitable venture.
Vic Mathias - July 8, 2005