For many rural communities, outside dollars aren’t drawn through big investments or large companies moving in. Instead, they rely on tourists drawn by small-town charm and quirky features that make the town unique.

From the days of Route 66, tourists have been willing to hit the road to find that special something that makes a town different. Over the last several years, special trails and features have popped up to send tourists on a journey unlike those they would find in urban areas – trails that often hearken to an area’s heritage.

Clarksville, Texas, sought to preserve its heritage and share it with others in the hopes of increasing tourism and, ultimately, the town’s coffers. It found a way to do it in a rather unique, colorful and creative manner, thanks to the dedication of some of its longtime residents and guidance from Communities Unlimited.

Clarksville is on the larger end of what is considered a small town, with about 5,000 residents. Located in Red River County, its Main Street holds the historic buildings of its past bookended on either side by modern restaurants and gas stations. A park-like city square is surrounded by buildings slowly being brought back to life through renovations and rentals.

But city leaders wanted more for their home. They wanted a way to draw tourists while proudly displaying a part of their artistic culture. A public project in a nearby county provided inspiration: Fannin County introduced a quilt trail.

The idea of the quilt trail came about in 2001 when Donna Sue Groves of Ohio decided to paint a quilt square on her barn to honor her mother and her mother’s love of quilts. Over time, the idea grew from one square to creating a trail of squares on barns throughout the county, so tourists could drive along the trail and spot the different quilt squares. Since that time, most of the states in the U.S. have at least one quilt trail, with some having more than one.

It’s not an easy nor inexpensive process. A sheet of aluminum must be cut to the desired size for the quilt square. It must be cleaned and smoothed along the edges, and any plastic coating must be removed. Then the piece must be primed and enameled before painting of the design can begin.

The piece must then be taped off for each color of the design, so the lines are straight on the final product. Once one color is painted on and thoroughly dried, the process must begin again for the next color. It’s a time-consuming process, especially if the pattern calls for several colors or shapes.

Aside from taking a lot of time, the quilt trail would need a lot of capital to get off the ground. Money would be needed mainly to purchase the supplies, including large sheets of aluminum or plywood, paint and paint supplies. Each piece, in general, measures 8’x8’.

Communities Unlimited worked with the organizers to find the funding necessary for creating a quilt trail. They were able to find it in the form of the Cohesive Economic Development Initiative grant for arts and culture projects that was awarded to Communities Unlimited by Rural LISC, an initiative created by the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) to support community development in rural areas.

With Communities Unlimited serving as the intermediary, the application for the grant was submitted on behalf of the quilt trail organizers of the future Red River County Historic Quilt Trail.

In February 2018, the trail received its $13,350 in grant money and began working on its quilt squares using supplies purchased with the grant’s fund. The project grew so rapidly, the grant received an extension and finally completed in September 2019.

Despite the grant ending, the group has continued to create quilt squares and mount them throughout the county as the trail grows in popularity. So far, they’ve created more than 120 quilt pieces, and the historic quilt trail continues to grow. If the organizers decide to apply for another grant, Communities Unlimited will be there for them every step of the way.