Now that June has arrived, the summer recreational industry will finally find out how much the surge in fuel prices will affect their business.

For several years, as the cost of oil has risen, predictions were that the breaking point for most Americans ó the level at which prices would begin affecting how they travel ó was $4 a gallon for gasoline. This spring, for all practical purposes, we are there, and the potential for further increases remains.

Travel is usually involved, to some degree, in any vacation, and the cost of getting there ó by land, air or sea ó is directly related to the cost of fuel. So more than a third of Americans are rethinking vacation plans because of record-high gas prices, a recent USA TODAY/Gallup Poll shows. Some destinations are feeling the squeeze now that the summer travel season officially got under way last weekend.

Of those altering travel plans, according to the survey, 37 percent are canceling trips, and one in four wonít go as far or stay as long, the poll finds. Tourist officials are bracing for the toughest season in recent memory.

Higher fuel prices have already led to a decline in the number of miles driven this year, so cross-country jaunts with the family loaded into the van may have become luxuries many canít afford.

Even so, it seems unlikely that Americans will deny themselves a summer vacation, even with higher energy costs. That should translate into shorter trips ó in terms of distance, if not in the number not days away. Fortunately, residents of Central Texas donít have to travel very far to have a good vacation experience. Historic trips, recreational trips and scenic trips are convenient and economical when vacationers choose to remain in Texas, and thatís especially so in this part of Texas.

Getting away from it all doesnít necessarily mean getting far away from it all. Area residents can use this opportunity to rediscover local attractions by spending a few days at Lake Brownwood or a variety of other very nearby destinations. These sites are popular vacation spots for thousands of people who come here from a considerable distance, and area accommodations have much to attract even local vacationers.

Meanwhile, these trends will probably mean the guests this area does have this summer will be much closer neighbors than we might have seen in other years. The community welcome mat should be out, figuratively speaking, because the people these travelers meet will leave a lasting impression on them. Often, a kind word or deed from a single person can prove to be the best promotional investment a community can make, because those acts ó positive or not ó will be shared with friends when those travelers return home.

Numerous special events like the Texas Bluegrass Festival, Heart of Texas Rod Run, the Cross Plains Barbarian Festival and the Fourth of July Spectacular ó to name a few ó promise to bring hundreds of guests into the area in just the next few weeks. These are other attractions, like the growing variety of museums and shopping and dining opportunities are important draws that boost our economy.

Tourism is a yearlong industry, but summer is when itís at its peak ó even with higher gas prices. This year, many of the tourists we see could be local folks.

Brownwood Bulletin