The Old Spanish Trail Association (OSTA) will officially arrive in Kanab and Fredonia for the first time next month, centuries after the trail itself first passed through the area.

OSTA National Manager Don Mimms, who visited the Kanab area several times in recent months, confirmed to Southern Utah News this week, the association’s 2010 conference will be held in Kanab and Fredonia April 29 through May 2.

Mimms said one focus of the conference will be the very first trade caravan that traveled what is now called the Old Spanish National Historic Trail (OSNHT), adding that in December, 1829, a startling array of 100 pack mules and 60 men passed near Kanab and Fredonia, almost certainly stopping at Kanab Creek.

The caravan, led by trader Antonio Armijo, was the first successful attempt to create an overland trade route across the difficult terrain between Santa Fe and Los Angeles, thus paving the way for similar ventures in subsequent years.

Mimms said the group’s conference this year features several innovations. “Probably the most obvious is our first-ever presentation of an original historical drama depicting the Armijo journey.” Kanab High School Drama students, directed by Linda Alderman, will provide actors for the play entitled “Tales of the Trail: the Armijo Adventure.”

The event will also feature professional talent: Arvel Bird of Nashville, TN, a Native American violinist and flutist, and Fritz Davis of Red River, NM, a seasoned musician, entertainer and actor. Kanab’s Crescent Moon Theater will host three performances of the play, including public presentations Thursday and Friday evenings, April 29-30, 7 p.m.

“But,” Mimms quickly added, “we think local people will also be interested in an unusual presentation we’re hosting on the subject of tourism.” He explained the presentation will feature Dan Shilling, a nationally acclaimed author and expert on “civic tourism,” a form of tourism that helps communities reframe tourism’s purpose. Shilling focuses on helping communities transform tourism from an end to a means, from an economic goal to a tool that also enhances what people love about the place where they live.

The Shilling presentation on Friday, April 30, at 8:30 a.m., is free and open to the public, which is true of all conference events on that day with the exception of the drama.

The conference, expected to attract over 100 participants, will also feature presentations related to historical and socioeconomic aspects of the OSNHT, along with a keynote address by Gary Werner, executive director of Partnership for the National Trails System.

Mimms told Southern Utah News OSTA has been very positively impressed with the community’s response to their plans. “People have genuinely welcomed us,” he said, “which of course makes us very glad to be here,” adding, “If you have any grumpy people in this town, we certainly haven’t met any of them.”

OSTA, a non-profit group formed in 1994 to study, interpret, protect and promote the Old Spanish Trail, has nine chapters, including one in England, and members in 26 states.

Two local businesses, Parry Lodge and Spurs Grill, currently serve as OSTA “Trail Hosts” by providing discounts and other specialized services for members.

More information about conference events will be published in the near future. In the meantime, readers may learn more by e-mailing manager@oldspanishtrail.org, phoning 719-242-8619 or visiting www.oldspanishtrail.org/trailsandtales/.