HOUSTON -

Local officials are hoping to transform the Texas coast into a major tourist destination area.

The Lone Star Coastal National Recreation Area would cover Matagorda, Brazoria, Galveston and Chambers counties. Local officials said it would help conserve the area's unique ecosystem and boost tourism in the area.

When Hurricane Ike hit the upper Texas coast, residents saw just how vital the marshlands were. Some provided immense coastal protection

"There were certain parts of the coast that weren't as devastated, and that was a direct result of the marshlands that absorb, like a sponge, some of that water," said John Nau, the Lone Star Coastal National Recreation Area chairman.

The group also plans on using the undeveloped lands to become a thriving estuary and to attract tourists every year.

"I'm a native Texan, born and raised. I think this will be extremely beneficial, economically and environmentally," said James Baker, former U.S. Secretary of State.

But local officials also want to make the upper Texas coast part of the national system of park units. They hope that will draw in more tourists and get a portion of the $280 billion they spend nationwide every year.

"National Recreation Areas have a consistent pattern of tripling visitation in a two to four year period," said Nau. "For us, that would mean we're talking $200 million."

The Lone Star Coastal Recreation Area would cover 450,000 acres of tidal marshland, wetlands, coastal prairies, bays and estuaries.

Business and land owners would not be required to do anything. Participation would be voluntary

The plan is in the beginning stages. The group must still write legislation before presenting it to Congress.