Charles, James, and Charlotte Hellen own and operate the La Mota Ranch in Hebbronville in Deep South Texas. Though La Mota has been a working ranch since 1894, today it is a combination historical site and sport hunting location in conjunction with nearby El Ebanito Ranch.

The ranch is just one of many that dot the South Texas Heritage Trail, a 300-mile historical trek that covers tracks laid decades before the American Revolution as odds-defying Spanish and Mexican pioneers bravely claimed ranching lands beyond the edge of a thinly populated frontier. The area is credited with giving birth to the American cowboy, born from generations of Mexican ranch hands known as vaqueros.

Recently, the Texas Legislature designated El Ebanito Ranch as the official Vaquero Capitol of Texas. It was in the scrub brush of the Llanos Mesteños, or "the Wild Horse Plains," that cattle ranching rose to lay its brand on North America and the world.

The La Mota Ranch is still owned and managed today by descendents of the original owner, Charles Hellen. The ranch's primary business is its purebred and commercial cattle herds. The Hellen family, lovers of history and heritage ranching, saw the value in promoting the unique mixture of Mexican and Texan ranching history along the South Texas border. They were encouraged by the state legislature’s recent recognition of the area’s historical significance, and capitalized on their natural amenities, historic buildings and local color to create a successful agritourism business.

Owner/operator Bill Hellen attributes his success to identifying a market niche. In recent years La Mota Ranch received multiple busloads of tourists per week and charged around $60 per person. The added income from running tours allowed the Hellen family to keep the ranch working, and the involvement of the entire Hellen family in the tourist enterprise has made the business what it is today. In fact, the Hellens became agritourism leaders in their region and helped develop other businesses through a regional agritourism collaboration known as the Llanos Mesteños South Texas Heritage Trail.

After the coming of the railroad, Hebbronville, Jim Hogg County, became, for a time, the largest cattle-shipping center in the nation. Today, it remains the home and commercial center for many family-owned cattle ranches with the large undeveloped tracts of diverse grass and brush land that are important to birding and wildlife enthusiasts worldwide.

Crowds flock to the area and the many ranches spread across the heritage trail each year to enjoy world class birding, hunting opportunities and nature study.

South Texas, where temperate and tropical climates gently overlap, harbors eleven major plant community sub regions and serves like the neck of an hourglass to funnel migratory bird and butterfly species to destinations at the limits of the Central and Mississippian Flyways. No other zone in North America brings together such an abundance and diversity of winged and terrestrial life from so many distant places.

A look at these two very successful agritourism operations provides but a glimpse of the creative and aggressive efforts of America's farm and ranch community to preserve agriculture history while generating revenue to support their rural business endeavors.

While agri-tainment and agritourism may be a viable objective for many farm and ranch owners, it is proving to be a successful venture for the many who are willing to plow new trails and opportunities to succeed with their rural offerings.

 

For more information:

Nature Tourism Development Report

North American Farmers’ Direct Marketing Association

MaiZE Development

National Christmas Tree Association

Agritourism World

PickYourOwn.org

 

 

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