When Ennis Turns Blue

ENNIS, TX — This month the Ennis Bluebonnet Trails Festival enters its 62nd year, and although the event is sponsored by the Ennis Garden Club, it is Gina Rokas and Paula Campo of the Ennis Convention and Visitors Bureau who actively promote the event, providing tourists information, maps and directions to the trails. “We are thrilled Ennis is finally getting the recognition it deserves as a prime destination to see the Texas wildflowers,” Gina said.

ennis413-1For the Ennis Convention and Visitors Bureau (ECVB), the Ennis Bluebonnet Trails Festival is the largest tourism draw. Gina and Paula take pride in offering such things as a restaurant guide and a list of where to find the best bluebonnets. “We’re all about customer service,” Gina explained, “and making sure visitors who come in this door will have the best experience Ennis can offer.” In the past, the team has assisted tourists, professional photographers, even newlyweds, in finding properties where owners will allow them to take fun photos in the bluebonnets. “We know where to send people,” Gina stated. “One of the most memorable moments was helping a lady and her husband, who was going blind, to find bluebonnets for him to see for the first and last time in his life. That was one of the most emotional days for us and one we will never forget.” The Ennis Bluebonnet Trails have a rich and interesting history. In 1939, the first bluebonnet trail was marked by Louis Clarke along a path near Country Club Lake. In 1951, the Ennis Garden Club appointed the first Trails Committee with Mrs. C.A. McMurray as chairman.

From that day forward, the trails have consisted of three routes totaling 45 miles. All bluebonnets on these trails are natural and have never been seeded. In 1985, the original trail staked by Mr. Clarke became Kachina Prairie, a protectorate of the Natural Area Preservation Association. Any day of the year, the ECVB may have anywhere from five to 10 visitors a day. During bluebonnet season, typically the month of April, the number of visitors jumps to an average of 500 a day. On Good Friday 2012, the center experienced a record 1,000 visitors. The next day, they received over 900 visitors. In 2012, the ECVB also had a repeat celebrity visitor — Morgan Fairchild, who first saw the bluebonnets in Ennis in 2003. To help with the influx of visitors, several Gina Rokas and Paula Campp know their bluebonnets. volunteers from the Garden Club and the community in general assist Gina and Paula. These volunteers not only help with information about the Bluebonnet Trails and Festival, but encourage them to visit local markets, restaurants and hotels, which helps boost the Ennis economy. “We could not do it without the volunteers, and the Ennis Garden Club is a huge help,” Gina said. “It has to be a team effort for us to survive.” Gina and Paula explained how Mother Nature can change even the best-laid plans. In the past, there have been years where bluebonnets didn’t bloom well, causing some out of town visitors to be disappointed.

However, in 2012, the bluebonnets were so plentiful that one landowner’s 100-acre field, fondly called the Field of Dreams, was bathed in bluebonnets. Every year the growth trend changes, so it’s important to check with the ECVB’s Web site for updates before travelling to the Ennis area. For instance, last year the bluebonnets bloomed earlier. Due to the drought in 2011, Ennis was the only place in Texas that had a significant crop of bluebonnets. A renowned movie director from Austin contacted the ECVB, needing bluebonnets for an upcoming film. The ladies gave him the information, and the result is that bluebonnets on the Bristol trail are now featured in a new IMAX-3D film, Flight of the Butterflies. Paula, an Ennisite, and Gina, who moved to Ennis in 1990, are passionate about their city. Paula worked at the center part-time until the city took it over in 2000, and she stayed on. She loves helping people locate relatives to expand their family’s genealogy. They both contribute answers to genealogy questions. If one doesn’t know, the other likely does. Paula’s passion shines in the area of family history. “It’s fun! I really like genealogy,” Paula admitted with a smile.

Gina’s degree, recreational administration, and background are in the private club sector. Prior to working with the ECVB, she worked at the Ennis Colonial Tennis Club, now the EISD Tennis Center, and when the position with the city became available, it was a natural fit. “Paula and I have the right personalities for this job,” Gina admitted. “We love people.” Gina, in particular, wears many hats. She networks with local organizations, as well as helping plan the marketing and publicity for several local events. She is on the National Polka Festival Committee, an ex officio member of the Ennis Chamber of Commerce and liaises with the Ennis Downtown Merchants Association. “I love selling Ennis,” she said, “and I love selling the fun of Ennis.”

The main focus of Gina and Paula’s jobs is to advertise outside the city to bring people to Ennis. When people stay in Ennis, they pay a hotel/motel tax which funds the tourism budget. “If no one stays at the hotels, I don’t have a budget,” Gina stated. Very seldom do they advertise in the local newspaper, instead opting to purchase billboards in the DFW area. They also work with a company, Certified Distribution, to print and distribute Ennis brochures throughout the North and central Texas area. All the festivals bring overnight visitors, as do events at the Texas Motorplex. Even the Galaxy Drive-in has recently become an overnight tourist attraction. In order to keep up with trends, Gina researches how people come to learn about Ennis. Many discover the city through the Internet. Using Google, for instance, the Ennis Bluebonnet Trails Festival is one of the top links. Last year, Gina created a Twitter and Facebook page for the center, and she regularly updates the Web site to keep visitors informed on the year’s growth forecasts for bluebonnets. Currently, she is working on making the Web site mobile-friendly for tourists and locals alike. In fact, even Ennis natives inquire about what to do around town. “The first thing they can do is stop by the ECVB,” Gina said. “We’ll give them information on the best places in Ennis to explore!”

Written by Donnielle Tyner .