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The struggle to put Sabine County, Texas, and Toledo Bend Reservoir on the InterNET World Map

…This is pretty old and dates back to about 2000, not very long after Toledo-Bend.Com was established in 1999. However, you may still find it interesting as it is how the website got going…

For The Record: This is written by Toledo-Bend.Com and contains both objective information and subjective interpretation and opinion based on observation and personal experience.

The Area

To understand Toledo-Bend.Com and how it came to be, what it is, and where it is going, one must first understand a little about the area.

Toledo Bend Reservoir was created in the 1960s as a joint effort between the states of Louisiana and Texas. The Sabine River, forming part of the boundary between Texas and Louisiana, supplies Toledo Bend. Prior to the creation of the reservoir, there was just the river and a few small towns, farms, and timberland that is now the lake and surrounding areas. The creation of the lake meant the loss of some of these little towns and lands that had been in area families for generations. The biggest industry has always been the harvest of timber, primarily pine. A large part of the area surrounding the lake on the Texas side is occupied by Sabine National Forest. This makes for a beautiful area rich in wildlife, clean air and water, and bountiful opportunity to live a serene life closer to nature.

Today, there remains little industry here. There is an aging population due to the fact that there just isn’t much in the area to offer any opportunities to young people and, consequently, they move away to find jobs and make lives for themselves. Many current residents of the area have spent large portions of their working life years away and have moved back where they grew up and where they and their families have been established over many years. There are also many people who have discovered this lovely area and retired here to live on or near the lake. In the end, though, there is a small, aging population and a dearth of economic activity. Sabine County, Texas, for example, encompasses the biggest part of the western side of Toledo Bend Reservoir and has a population of about 10,000. With a low tax rate and a great part of the county area occupied by a national forest, there isn’t much money for local government to operate with. One of the major sources of funds for Sabine County is the payment the U. S. Forest Service makes annually from proceeds it receives through timber sales.

This web site has its beginnings in Sabine County, Texas and, therefore, what it is and where it is headed has a lot to do with the Sabine County environment. Sabine County is an unusual admixture of folk. By and large the people of this area are friendly and outgoing with hearts as big as their state of Texas. They are also far behind the rapidly moving technological curve and prone to prefer the status quo. Many of the “powers that be” within the county have their own spheres of influence and control and very much want to “defend their territory”. This brings out a tendency of resistance to change and growth both in attitude and in fact; there are many who do not want to see any changes take place in the county and even those who resent the lake being here because of the loss of old family homesteads and towns from the time of the lake’s inception. Outsiders tend to be viewed with skepticism and even distrust for at least some period of time – especially if they want to bring fresh ideas to bear on the community at large. As more outsiders have gradually populated the area, however, there are enough of those who are not entrenched in the past to start bringing real pressure for change to the area and those stirrings for transformation are beginning to be felt.

This Web Site

In the beginning…

This web site had its beginnings when Linda Mauer, owner of Hillside Inn and RV Park, and Frank Dutton, recently relocated to the area with his small computer software business, got together to discuss the possibilities of getting her enterprise exposed to the world on the InterNET. The available ISPs (Independent Service Providers) charged a premium rate of an extra $20. per month for businesses wishing to have any sort of small web site hosted by them. From a business perspective, even this relatively small amount, on top of the cost of web site creation, is enough to discourage a new business from trying an advertising venture with unknown potential for return. However, the Sabine County Chamber of Commerce already had a web presence with a great deal of space to spare. A decision was made to approach the Chamber of Commerce to see if they would let some of this unused space be used for the proposed web site to see what sort of results it could generate.

The Sabine County Chamber of Commerce had never been approached with such an idea before and it was to be brought before the Board of Directors. In conjunction with this effort, Frank Dutton evaluated the Chamber of Commerce web site. He believed it to be wanting in several areas. The Chamber of Commerce was lacking in equipment, expertise, and the time and resources necessary to devote to production of a more dynamic and compelling web presence. After some discussions with active members of the Chamber of Commerce, Janna Lehman and Margene Boudreaux, a decision was made that Frank Dutton would take the Chamber’s current material on the InterNET and rework it and add to it for a demonstration site. The end result was hoped to be that Frank Dutton would take over management of the Chamber site, allow Hillside Inn to use some space for their site, and open the same privilege to other Chamber of Commerce members – at no cost to the Chamber of Commerce. Prior to the Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors meeting a great deal of time and effort was poured into the demonstration site and efforts were made to contact some Board members directly (who had Internet access) so they could preview the proposed site prior to the Chamber Board meeting. However, at their board meeting, the Chamber resoundingly decided not to allow any outsiders to take over any control of the Chamber of Commerce web site and the proposal was soundly rejected.

Lost the battle, but not the war…

A great deal of time and effort had gone into preparation of the demonstration site. With it, a certain devotion to the general concept of the site and what it could be and could represent to the region had developed. Janna Lehman, active not only in the Chamber of Commerce but in other community oriented groups, (and, herself, a relative newcomer to the area) was also very interested in seeing tourism promoted for the area. Another new group Janna Lehman was very active in, the Toledo Bend Bi-State Alliance, was considering the possibilities of a web presence to help promote their organization and its objectives. She made the suggestion that the scope of the project change to one of the whole Toledo Bend Lake area and that the web site be restructured and adopted by the Toledo Bend BI-State Alliance. Material was added and deleted and a new demonstration site prepared to be brought before the BI-State Alliance for anticipated adoption as their official site.

The Toledo Bend BI-State Alliance, it should be noted here, is an organization comprised of other organizations from both Texas and Louisiana which are all interested in obtaining certain common objectives concerning the lake and lake area. When the meeting was held, where it was expected that the Alliance would adopt the proposed web site, a snag developed. The Sabine County Chamber of Commerce, being a member organization of the Alliance, protested strongly the adoption of the web site. The matter was postponed until the next meeting to give other members a chance to investigate and deliberate further. It seems that there were factions in Sabine County that did not want a web site not under their control to represent Sabine County at all, and strongly protested to the Chamber to stop it, and that the Sabine County Chamber of Commerce felt it should be the single source for information about, and promotion of, the county.

A life of its own…

By now the amount of work and content that had been put into this resource had taken on a life of its own. It was decided that a domain would be purchased for a stand alone site to promote the area without any affiliation to any organization. Toledo-Bend.Com came into existence. A separate area was set up for the Toledo Bend BI-State Alliance where they would have their web site, under Toledo-Bend.Com but not directly affiliated with it. Materials pertinent to the Alliance would be the only thing on their site and, even though their site was hosted by Toledo-Bend.Com, since there was no direct tie between Toledo-Bend.Com and the Toledo Bend BI-State Alliance, no reflection concerning content on Toledo-Bend.Com could be used to reflect on the Alliance. At the next meeting of the Toledo Bend BI-State Alliance the Toledo-Bend.Com web site was established in its own right regardless of any decision made by the Alliance. The only remaining decision for the Alliance was whether they wished to have their own web site under the Toledo-Bend.Com site. Over the vehement protestations of the Sabine County Chamber of Commerce, the Alliance accepted their site. Toledo-Bend.Com had been born and continues to grow and promote the whole of the Toledo Bend Lake area.

What We Have Accomplished

This all started with Linda Mauer, owner of Hillside Inn and RV Park, wanting to try a web presence. Linda’s site is very successful; arguably, too successful. She saw results from her site almost immediately after it went online and has seen a 50% increase in business for the first half of 1999. As this is being written, she has just reported that her business for July, 1999 has more than doubled from the previous year and she is seeing “second generation webbies” come in – these are described as people referred to her web site from others who had found it and been here and then recommended it.

Toledo-Bend.Com really kicked off in October of 1998 and during the first couple of months had about 600 visitors per month; now we are regularly seeing about 4,000 visitors per month. This area and its recreational and historical attractions is becoming visible to the world as more people are finding out about it. We have managed to get well enough placed that in virtually any search engine on the Internet when you search for “Toledo Bend” you will find one or more of our pages in the top 10 listings – the only single site you will consistently find in all of the engines in top positions.

We are working to make more local businesses aware of the benefits they can achieve by having a web presence and have overcome some of the doubts and mistrust originally encountered. We hope and believe we are bringing Sabine County, Texas and the whole lake area closer to the technology curve. We know we are making more people throughout the country aware of this beautiful, serene, charming area and making them want to spend some quality time here.

What Has It Cost

Our greatest expenditure has been in countless freely given hours. Janna Lehman has pored time and again over pages looking for errors to be corrected and Frank Dutton has done all of the work on the actual web site construction and several complete redesigns and reconstructions of the site as it has grown and developed. Margene Boudreaux provided much of the original inspiration and has been a consistent supporter of the vision this site has already reached and continues to move toward. Janna Lehman and Linda Mauer have ceaselessly provided inspiration, encouragement, motivation and support for the site as well as promoting the site and its goals throughout the area. Without Margene, Linda, and Janna this site would not be here. There has been a toll for all involved in terms of large amounts of exasperation and frustration and even a few tears. Financially, we have managed to do it all on a shoestring budget from October, 1998 through August, 1999. We have told about 28,000 visitors something about Toledo Bend and by the time our “first anniversary” rolls around, that number should be about 35,000.

Where We Are Headed

We are working to develop an ever-more-complete resource to disseminate information about this area. We have received help in the form of informative materials from the Shelby County Chamber of Commerce, Newton County Chamber of Commerce, and Sabine Parish Chamber of Commerce and have their moral support. Unfortunately, as with most other area entities, they are not in a position to provide greater content on their areas at this time. We will be working to include more information on these areas than we presently have. We would like their information to be as broad and complete as what we have for Sabine County. Of course, being located in Sabine County, the information is more readily available. A local author of historical books about this county, Robert Cecil McDaniel, has provided the bulk of historical information on Sabine County.

We also want to persuade, by results, more of the local tourism oriented businesses to have an effective presence on the Internet as we know that additional presence will enhance the picture for the whole area. We are reaching a point where the results are beginning to show; now we want to start multiplying those results. We want to help lead the way to a bit more prosperity and opportunity in this area so fewer young people will need to leave to seek their fortunes far from home and so that more new people will want to come to the area and bring their new ideas and outlooks with them to further enrich the whole area, bit by bit.

How We Are Funded

This web site is primarily a “labor of love”. We have been able to refrain from putting banner ads and other “click through” sources of revenue on the site. We know everyone already sees enough of those on the Internet We accept sponsors who have something pertaining to the area to offer and charge a modest $100. per year for sponsorship (we originally started at $60., but had to go up). For this fee the sponsor gets placed in rotation on several spots through the web site. We also offer commercial space for their web site at $60. per year (unless it is really large – then we must charge more). If you recall – that’s where all of this started! Rather than spending an extra $20. a month to get space to place their web site, a sponsor gets the space for $60. a year and the traffic from sponsorship for $100. Additionally, the sponsor enjoys the benefit of having a lot of people who are viewing the site because they are interested in the area get a chance to click right through to their web site! The few sponsorships have now reached a point where they pretty well pay for the web site hosting and necessary software; but there are no salaries or profits connected with this site. As its creator, Frank Dutton does benefit through obtaining other web site design and construction work from those who have seen and liked this site. Primarily, this site is a community service to the whole of the area surrounding Toledo Bend Lake.

This site has not received any government funding or funding from any other sources to date. We do hope to be recognized by the Sabine County Tourism Commission at some point. This recognition would provide great satisfaction and further help promote the area.

The End?

This is the end of our story for now. We hope and expect that there will be more chapters as we continue to promote this area and lead more businesses to promote themselves and this area on the Internet

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