• Joseph Kerski

Famous Boots of Wimberley, Texas: A Story Map


Take a story map tour of a public arts project in Wimberley, Texas to see how one community shares its sense of place.

I recently created a story map on the “Famous Boots of Wimberley, Texas”. This beautiful small community of about 4,000 people in the Texas Hill Country started as a trading post settlement in 1848. The people of the town of Wimberley began a project in 2014 called “Bootiful Wimberley” as a way to highlight community arts and enhance cultural tourism there. A series of 10 foot (3 meter) tall cowboy boot statues quickly expanded to 50 boots total a year later. Each boot is sponsored by at least one local business and organization, and is lovingly painted by area artists. When I visited the town in early 2016, I was amazed at the beauty of the paintings, the size of the boots, and the fact that none of the boots had been vandalized in any way—on the contrary, it was evident that they were all well cared for. They were polished and in prime condition, despite being in public places and often along the sides of busy streets. The best thing about the boots is that each of them is a story unto its own: Each tells a unique story about the community and about the region’s birds, ecoregions, history, water, and many other topics.

Such stories are rich for any community, and in this part of the world—the Texas Hill Country—the tales are steeped in a vibrant human history, beginning with Native American, Spanish, Mexican, German, and the American settlers from the east coast over the years, as well as unique physical geography, including hills and buttes, thorns, rocks, heat, and other things that are physical challenges but a fundamental part of the sense of place. The area is just high enough to make it a distinctive ecoregion separate from the Gulf Coastal Plain to the east and the central Texas plains to the west. The Texas Hill Country increasingly is a tourist draw, and communities such as Wimberley have made efforts to provide a walkable community that visitors find attractive, along with arts, music, history, and crafts festivals throughout the year.

Another important part of the region is the reality of its water issues—in fact, water is what drew most of the original settlers here. Unlike in some other parts of Texas, this area of the Texas Hill Country is known for its cool and clear water. Yet another part of the water story is that often it seems as though there is either too much or too little water. Droughts and wildfires are common, as are frequent devastating floods. Wimberley, in fact, has experienced floods just recently, including around Memorial Day 2015. The gauge on the Blanco River at Wimberley during that weekend reached 40.21 feet during this flood, as opposed to the normal flow of only 5 feet (http://www.srh.noaa.gov/ewx/?n=memorial_weekend_floods_2015). Indeed, most of the time the Blanco River is shallow enough to wade across. But more was to come: The area was again subjected to floods in late October 2015.

Also contributing to the area’s sense of place is the rise of independent ranch land use and small communities here, coped with the struggles to maintain community life despite during the past 30 years the enormous population growth pressure from Austin and San Antonio. Higher education is also part of the area’s heritage, with the University of Texas, Austin Community College, Texas State University, and the University of Texas San Antonio here, and Baylor University and others not far away. The boot project brought together local artists, the Chamber of Commerce, local businesses, and the entire community, and continues to serve as a source of city pride as well as a great attraction for visitors.

To Use: (1) Click on the blue "I" on the top right to read about the page, (2) Click on the arrow (right bottom next to title) or use the menu (top left corner) to advance the story, (3) on any map click the "home" icon to return to the center of the map.

I created the story map for several key reasons. I wanted to show educators and the general public how they could integrate art, history, science, technology, and geography. My colleagues and I receive frequent inquiries from people asking how to integrate art into STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics) educational programs, and Wimberley’s giant boots are a good illustration of this integration. I also wanted to show how all of these topics could be examined and told through mapping via a web-based Geographic Information System (GIS). I wanted to illustrate the capabilities of the side accordion-style story map. This style is an easy and compelling way to tell a story, and is another of the types of configurable web applications that I mentioned above.

Furthermore, I wanted to demonstrate that every community has a story, and get people thinking about the story that they could tell using maps and other tools. Story maps provide a visually compelling, easy-to-create way of explaining, describing, and even inspiring. When I visited the town for the first time after a series of presentations I gave at the Geography Department of nearby Texas State University, I learned about the boot project as a result of my afternoon town walkabout. I had no prior knowledge of the boots, and the project quickly became so interesting to me that I began collecting information, photographs, and videos. A short time later, I had created the story map that integrates all of these types of multimedia. My message is that if I can create this story map with only an introductory knowledge of the area’s history, geography, and of the boot project, I believe that someone can do much more with their deeper knowledge of their own community and region. Therefore, it is my hope that my brief story map (see the video above) can in some small way inspire people in another location to think creatively about a place-based arts project that can help build pride in their own community.

To learn how to make your own story map please click here to go to Joseph's mindful geography practice for step-by-step instructions.

Joseph J. Kerski, PhD., GISP, is Geographer and Education Manager at Esri and an instructor at the University of Denver. His website can be viewed here.

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