The SoDa District Courtyard is one of the many repurposed historical buildings in Abilene. Courtesy of Tim Smith.

May 10, 2018

You never know where the Lorax will turn up. Even in West Texas.

Like other counter culture movements, environmentalism has seeped into the American psyche. We recently discovered even some folks in Abilene, a city of 130,000 about 150 miles west of DFW, say they are conscious of the need for green.

“I think communities in West Texas, where the old-timers still remember the Dust Bowl, tend to have a strong respect for preserving the environment along with their heritage,” says Kelly Thompson, communications director Abilene Convention & Visitors Bureau.

SoDa District CourtyardThompson says one way they’re preserving that heritage is via repurposed buildings, a potential draw for eco-conscious travelers. 

The SoDa District Courtyard is located in the renovated Boys and Girls Club building. Courtesy of Tim Smith.  

One standout is an old Boys and Girls Club, which was turned into an event venue now dubbed the SoDA District Courtyard. Tim Smith and his wife, Pam purchased the boarded up, condemned building at 817 South 2nd in 2015. 

Tim and Pam Smith“Our goal was to renovate it into our home, which we did,” Smith explained. “Because the roof on the 12,000 square-foot building had deteriorated beyond repair and because we did not need a home that large, we removed the bad roof and created a courtyard within the old walls of the building.”

Pam and Tim Smith take their recycling to a drop-off station since Abilene lacks curbside recycling pickup. Courtesy of Tim Smith.

Smith put solar powered lights in, added some greenery and soon it became more than just their personal yard. They began allowing the Abilene community to do fundraisers in the courtyard and it has evolved from there. The venue’s grand opening will be held May 26.

“The building has gone from a condemned building that was vacant for over 45 years into a dual purpose space; our home and a great venue for weddings, receptions and reunions. This was a place long forgotten, but now it shines and stands out like a new penny. We hope to see more buildings like ours repurposed in unique ways.”

The Grace Museum in AbileneOther repurposed buildings in Abilene include the National Center for Children's Illustrated Literature gallery, which was formerly Rhodes Garage.

The Grace Museum is located in a repurposed hotel. Courtesy of Abilene CVB.

The Grace is a repurposed hotel, which is now a museum, and the Mill, an old grain mill where folks can now go to enjoy a cozy wine bar.

Green Fare

For foodies, the Abilene Farmer’s Market is a must to begin the morning and it is open from the middle of May until late fall on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from 7 a.m. to noon. The Farmer’s Market is a great place to find local honey and soaps and plants in addition to fruits and vegetables.  

Hug a Root produce boxMeanwhile, some eco-conscious locals, like the Smiths, get their veggies from Hug A Root, an organic family farm in Buffalo that delivers fresh organic produce to your home. There's also a Natural Grocers store.

Hug A Root delivers boxes of fresh, organic produce. Courtesy of FB.

Natural Food Center's veg menuIn addition, the Natural Food Center is a restaurant that has been offering "clean eating since 1976," per its website. The menu includes vegetarian and vegan options, including a veggie burger that can be made vegan. Handmade juices and frozen fruit smoothies are also available.

Abilene is also home to a Fuzzy's Taco Shop

Some of the Natural Food Center's veg offerings. Courtesy of FB.

Sockdolager Brewing Co. in Abilene touts its eco-friendly practice of sending spent grain to local farms. Plus they strive to partner only with local businesses when brewing.

Walking Tours and Hiking 

Outdoor lovers will also find Abilene’s walkable downtown a real draw. Many of the city's main attractions are clustered together and that means less driving and traffic.  

Dr. Seuss' Lorax in Abilene“Abilene has long been recognized for its innovative revitalization of its downtown through the arts," says Thompson. "The layout of our downtown is the envy of city planners all over the state. It’s a walkable grid offering broad space for a diverse mix. We’ve got galleries, shops, restaurants, museums and green spaces alongside banks, business-to-business services and residential buildings. Throw in some whimsical public sculpture, and you find a pretty fun place to stroll.”

You never know where the Lorax will show up. The sculpture is one of 24 children's storybook characters scattered through downtown Abilene. Courtesy of Abilene CVB.

Kids will appreciate the 24 sculptures of children’s storybook characters scattered around downtown, include the Lorax, Dr. Seuss's environmental messenger. 

Abilene State ParkContinuing outdoors, kayaking on Lake Fort Phantom has become popular as have the Nature Tours designed to allow for visitors to go at their own pace over a period of three days. The tour begins at the Abilene Zoo before heading to historic sites, winding through nature trails and enjoying a visit at a 93-year-old Stasney's Cook Ranch country retreat. 

Abilene State Park features yurts and a spring-fed swimming pool. Courtesy of TPWD.

Other outdoor options including spending the night in a yurt at 529-acre Abilene State Park, which features a spring-fed swimming pool, or biking on the Buck Creek Mountain Bike Trail.

Thompson mentinos one more eco-friendly sight on your way through town:

“Our Dyess Air Force Base long has been a leader in wind energy, and the surrounding area is full of wind farms along with the pump jacks.”

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