Sabine: What is STARK Cultural Venues?

While not among the usual suspects to sponsor a bass fishing tournament, STARK Cultural Venues finds doing so is right up their creek … err, river.  

The Bassmaster Elite at Sabine River, out of Orange, Texas, is the season opener for the 2015 Bassmaster Elite Series, and the Stark family has a storied history in the city, region and state. Walter G. Riedel III, president and CEO of the Stark Foundation, said the 2013 event that drew record crowds made it an easy decision to once again be the presenting sponsor.

“It was proven from the last Bassmaster event in Orange that spectators were attracted from the far reaches of our region, bringing attention to our community and showcasing one of our major natural assets, our rivers and streams,” he said.

The Elite opener March 19-22 serves as the focal point of the Sabine River Festival homed at the Orange Boat Ramp. Stark and the Chamber of Commerce have put together a myriad of other activities, including three concerts and laser and fireworks shows.

“We believe in this event because of the positive impact it has had on our community and because of Bassmaster’s group values: integrity, good sportsmanship and quality education for youth,” Riedel said.

While a foundation that operates a museum, theater, botanical garden and historic home might seem a touch out of place affiliating with a bass fishing tournament, Riedel believes it fits nicely with the mission “to promote and support appreciation of the outdoors and conservation of our natural resources.”

B.A.S.S. certainly does that, and CEO Bruce Akin said he thinks STARK is a great partner for the family-centric, four-day event. “While the guys are out competing on the water, families and friends can visit the STARK venues to enhance their time spent in Orange before heading to the weigh-in.”

Venues to visit

The closest tie to B.A.S.S. is the Shangri La Botanical Gardens and Nature Center, a short jaunt from the launch site through town. A competitor might even be seen fishing in Adams Bayou, which borders the center’s 252 acres of mixed deciduous forest, cypress tupelo swamp, wetlands and large lake. The buildings on the grounds are the first in Texas and 50th in the world to earn platinum certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.

The Shangri La Botanical Gardens and Nature Center.

Another venue that’s sure to interest angling fans is the Stark Museum of Art. It includes one of the finest collections of 19th and 20th century Western art, including works of Remington, Wyeth and O’Keeffe, American Indian art and artifacts, decorative arts of glass and porcelain and rare books and manuscripts from the likes of Audubon.

A look into the past is available at the W.H. Stark House. This 1894 home offers visitors a view of original furnishings and personal effects along with rare decorative arts. Restored in 1981, the 14,000-square-foot home is the only surviving structure in Orange from the era.

The W.H. Stark House, built in 1894.

The final Stark facility is the Lutcher Theater, which holds a variety of shows, from the likes of Mama Mia! to children’s events like The Gruffalo’s Child to Doktor Kaboom. It is the site of the second of this year’s three River Festival concerts. Trout Fishing in America will perform March 20 at 7 p.m., followed by the Lutcher Laser Spectacle at 8:15.

Country music artist Dustin Lynch opens the concert series on March 19 after the Day 1 weigh-in at approximately 6 p.m., and long-time performer Tracy Byrd will follow suit on Saturday, March 21. Byrd’s concert will be followed with a fireworks display.

There are other activities surrounding the River Festival, including a 5K run, Fishy Art activities, a catch-and-release tank, vendors, food, and of course, fun. It all would not have been possible without the Sabine River, where the Starks’ American success story began. Much of the Stark family assets came rafting down the waterway as raw timber. The family built great wealth from the lumber industry.

Stark family history

W.H. Stark was born in 1851 in the East Texas town of San Augustine, more than a century before Sam Rayburn and Toledo Bend, the famed fisheries on either side, the latter by damming the Sabine, were formed. Stark lost his mother to illness during a Civil War trip to Camp Texas where his father was stationed with the Confederate army, then after the war he worked with his father on a mail route from Burkville to Orange.

He struck out on his own at 20, moving to Orange to work in its flourishing lumber industry. He began “jacking” logs that came down the Sabine from the east Texas timber stands, and he worked his way up while pursuing varied business interests, like the largest livery stable in town. He later married Miriam Lutcher, the daughter of a lumber tycoon, and that sent him on the path to become president of Texas’ largest sawmill.

East Texas lumberjacks pose with timber ready to be transported down the Sabine River to the sawmills in Orange, Texas.

The couple had two children, Henry Jacob Lutcher Stark and Francis Anne, who died in childhood. H.J. Lutcher Stark followed his father as a timber magnate and had numerous business interests as well. He also served for years on the Board of Regents at the University of Texas, where he is credited for naming the school’s mascot – the Longhorns.

With his wife, Nelda, Lutcher Stark amassed great collections of art, including botanical books and American Western art. Their love of nature led to the creation of the Shangri La, which through the years suffered catastrophes from ice storms and hurricanes.

In 1961, the Nelda C. and H.J. Lutcher Stark Foundation was formed to spotlight the area’s history and wealth of natural resources as well as working to improve the quality of life by promoting education and the arts. After Lutcher Stark’s death in 1965, his philanthropic legacy was realized with today’s four venues.

A record 33,650 fans enjoyed the 2013 Elite event, and though since surpassed, Southeast Texas hopes to regain the title. Finally having decent weather for a B.A.S.S. event might help. The long-range forecast in Orange calls for temps in the 50s to begin each morning with highs reaching into the 70s, a relief from the frigid events recently.

“All of us at STARK Cultural Venues are thrilled to be the title sponsor for the Bassmaster Elite Series competition in Orange, Texas, for the second time,” Riedel said.