It’s unusually quiet in Bandera, known as the Cowboy Capital of the World. The Hill Country town an hour’s drive west of San Antonio — population about 900 — typically bustles in the spring with families visiting the bounty of guest ranches surrounding the town, enjoying trail rides, and taking kayak, canoe, and tubing trips on the gentle Medina River. Now, tourism—the lifeblood of many small towns across the state—has come to a halt under the pandemic.
Patricia Moore, executive director of the Bandera County Convention & Visitors Bureau, says she and other local leaders are urging everyone to listen to local news sources on latest updates while also following CDC guidelines and the governor’s executive orders for social distancing and restaurant closures.
“We are bombarded by national and state news, which increases anxiety and may not be accurate for our situation,” Moore says. “Bandera city and county leaders are doing due diligence in providing the most accurate local information for our residents. And we remind everyone that we are bound by the executive orders of the governor’s office.”
Many of roughly 70 restaurants in the county offer take-out services. Some lodgings and horseback riding outfitters are open, as are grocery stores, so visitors can make picnic meals. Lost Maples State Natural Area is closed, but Hill Country State Natural Area remains open. The Medina River is flowing, so locals are out in their kayaks and canoes, getting fresh air and paddling a safe distance from one another.
Not being able to welcome visitors in the usual fashion is foreign to the naturally gregarious Moore, whose giant smile and hearty laugh are familiar around Bandera. “It’s a gorgeous day here. I’d much rather be sitting in the Medina River than talking on the phone today,” she says with her customary good humor. “We just ask people to make decisions about visiting based on the governor’s executive orders.”
Three hours north of the Hill Country, Cisco’s city leaders are focused on feeding the town’s elderly and children.
“We’re proceeding with caution,” Mayor Tammy Douglas says. “We’re trying to maintain stability because people are scared and hurting, economically.”
Douglas probably knows her native Cisco better than anyone. After teaching 28 years there, she now fills two vital roles in the town of about 3,800 residents — in addition to serving as the town’s mayor, she’s the executive director of the chamber of commerce. Her town has enjoyed increased visitor traffic in the past few years, thanks to a busy economic development corporation that’s revitalized downtown with retail shops, eateries, a farm-to-market café, and a brewery.
Volunteers readily organized a drive to create care packages for about 60 seniors of who receive meal deliveries at home from the Cisco Senior Nutrition Program. Within a week, residents pulled together care packages with extra food and goods like puzzle books; a follow-up drive will be organized soon. Meanwhile, a new program is underway for delivering sack lunches to kids who typically get their lunches at schools, which are now closed. Coaches are making deliveries to the children at home.
Douglas praises the local Brookshire’s grocery store for keeping shelves stocked as well as possible. Slowpoke Farm Market on the city’s main drag sells homemade sourdough bread by the loaf, along with pies and meals to go, made from local farm-raised goods. Residents are stepping up contributions to The Blessing Box to help their neighbors in need. Situated in a park pavilion just outside Douglas’ office, a cabinet is filled with non-perishable foods, diapers, shoes and clothing. From her office window, Douglas observes people dropping off goods and others picking them up.
“It’s such a superb way to see how our town works.”
“Small-Town Dispatches” is a new series from Texas Highways focused on how COVID-19 is affecting some of our favorite Texas communities, from writers who live there or live close enough to visit often.
Read more from this series.