Downtown Waco’s Main Street Manager has left for a new and similar challenge: resuscitating a regional effort for heritage tourism.
Andrea Barefield, 41, started Tuesday as executive director of the Texas Brazos Trail Region, a travel promotion program that has been defunct since state funding cuts in 2015.
With those funds now restored, Barefield said she looks forward to telling the world about Central Texas and its treasures of music, architecture and history.
“We are not the largest region in the state, but we’ve got 18 counties, and we are truly the heart of Texas,” she said. “We’re dedicated to telling the story of true Texans and sharing our heritage and culture.”
The Brazos Trails region, established nearly 50 years ago as one of 10 heritage trails, includes historic towns such as Belton, Temple, Marlin, Bryan-College Station, Fairfield, Mexia, Clifton, Madisonville, Navasota, Bastrop, Elgin, Georgetown, Round Rock, Meridian and Clifton.
Barefield said the job change was also motivated by her desire to run for Waco City Council in May. If elected, she would have to leave the Main Street position, which is indirectly funded by the city of Waco through the nonprofit City Center Waco.
Barefield was among several candidates interviewed in June to fill out the remaining year of deceased District 1 Councilman Wilbert Austin’s term. The winner, Noah Jackson Jr., has said he doesn’t intend to run in the May election.
Barefield, daughter of former Mayor Mae Jackson, said she wants to carry on the family legacy of community service. Barefield was honored last month as a “rising star” by the Centex African-American Chamber of Commerce.
She said her two years as Main Street manager prepared her well for her new job. The Texas Main Street and the Texas Heritage Trails programs are both sponsored by the Texas Historical Commission, which provides accreditation and expertise.
“I’ve heard it said that the Texas Heritage Trail program is like Main Street on steroids,” Barefield said. “I will go to different regions and see how we can find resources for communities to promote tourism and learn how to sell their product.”
Barefield said she expects to get hands-on help from her board, which is headed by Bell County Museum director Coleman Hampton and includes Waco Dr Pepper museum official Joy Summar Smith.
Hampton, who also lives in Waco, said Barefield is a born “relationship-builder” and communicator who should be a perfect fit for bringing far-flung communities together.
“We just feel like any relationships that need to be made throughout the Brazos region, she has the skill set to do that,” he said. “She’s a self-starter, a self-motivator.”
Chris Florance, spokesman for the Texas Historical Commission, said he hopes the Texas Brazos Trails program can come back better than ever under Barefield’s leadership.
“Andrea’s experience as Main Street manager makes her extremely qualified to lead the new region,” he said. “We’re really looking forward to working with her. … Getting the new board in place and reactivating the region makes this truly a statewide program.”