Starts

March 20, 2009
By Roger Emile Stouff

   Here’s what I’d like to see, as a starting point, within one year.
   Big, colorful welcome signs on the four-lane at the Northwest Boulevard and Garden City exits. They should be large enough to be eye-catching, with some good art. A slogan needs to be created, “Visit Franklin: Our History Runs Wild!” or something like that, spotlighting both our historic legacy and our natural resources and wildlife.
   At each end of the city on La. 182, a pullover spot where there are brochures, a built-in map with attractions, things to see, places to eat and so forth. And let’s not forget, this isn’t all about Franklin…there’ll also be places in the surrounding area and things to do.
   Down Main Street, there’ll be a post with little signs at all the major intersections: Sterling Road, Iberia Street and Willow Street. On those signs will be icons with arrows that will make it perfectly clear where to find what: An icon of a bear, pointing down Willow Street to the refuge; a picture of a knife and fork pointing toward restaurants, or a representation of an antebellum home pointing toward Grevemberg or any other.
   We should, in a year’s time, have at least a dozen medieval banners hanging from arms. These should correspond with the attractions and such that were highlighted on the map at the pullover at the city limits. Places to eat, things to see. That way, if someone stops and says, “Let’s go try this restaurant,” they’ll know to be looking for a big red heraldic banner, with the name of the restaurant on it, and it can be seen from a hundred yards off.
   At the intersections of Iberia and Willow with Main, two big kiosks, similar to the ones that promote the canoe trails. Big suckers. A map of the city, again, with attractions, but also with some history notes, some interesting tidbits, old photographs and so forth. These kiosks can change every few months as far as content goes.
   Most importantly, they’ll advertise our festivals and other events, so that folks ambling through town aimlessly will see it and say, “Wow, let’s come back in April and check out this bear festival thing.”
   And believe me, friends and neighbors, they are ambling around town. You don’t realize how many, until you start looking for them. They’re here already.
   What I’ve just described here is what government likes to call “infrastructure” but of a different kind. You develop a subdivision or a shopping center, you put in infrastructure, and then try to lease or sell what you’ve built. These items are infrastructure for visitors, for that eventual happy day when we can establish ourselves as a destination for visitors.
   I’d like to see, within the next 12 months, the local Chamber of Commerce office, if it simply must be tucked away in that tiny spot on the side of the Blevins Building, at least put up a sign on the front of the building, too, with historic district approval of course, and create a bigger presence in this town. Like they used to have.
   I’d like to see some big trees in the courthouse square. Something to green up that atrocity, make it look at least a little better.
   Do you realize how cheap all this will be?
   I’d like to see some serious lighting on Teche Drive. I mean bright and safe. People would use that space more if it seemed less dark and gloomy. Lampposts would be awesome, but I may be wishing too big. Whatever is put up, we’re not talking stainless steel cobra-neck lights or a halogen bulb nailed to a tree. Make it look nice, and appropriate.
   You can buy prefab wood or vinyl gazebos in sixteen-foot diameter from an outfit right here in Louisiana for about five grand. It would only take two or three down there to really make a difference.
   This is easy stuff, and not that expensive in the whole grand scheme of things. Between government, civic organizations and private citizens, we can make just that much happen in the next year.
   With the Bayou Teche Bear Festival expanding into birding, we may be reaching out to a whole new avenue of attraction. Officials in North Carolina estimate, “There are about 521,000 people who made ‘wild bird watching’ nonresidential trips in 2001 in North Carolina. They spent about $381. Multiplying these, the annual expenditure for the state is $198,501,000 in 2000 dollars. Adjusting for inflation, the money spent is $230,261,160 in 2007 dollars.”
   You can’t sneeze at that, pard.
   New Jersey estimates, “Over the past 20 years, participation in wildlife watching, particularly bird watching, has increased nationally by more than 266 percent (U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service 2001 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation). The travel industry has noted the increased interest in outdoor and experiential travel, and in 2002, the Travel Industry Association of America declared:
   “– 76 percent of American travelers want to visit somewhere that they have never been before;
   “ – 48 percent of these travelers are interested in remote and untouched destinations; and
   “ – 57 percent are attracted by an area’s culture.”
   The Cajun Coast Visitors and Convention Bureau will also be building a new center on U.S. 90 right before you get into Morgan City, an impressive facility that will be representing all of St. Mary Parish. It’s expected that accessibility to this facility will be much easier than the current ones, and stopovers of visitors should increase substantially.
   We must be ready for them.
   Otherwise, they’ll just keep rolling on down that concrete spine out there.
   Just one year. That’s not a lot to accomplish. We just need people to take up the challenge. We need government to lend a hand. We’re not expecting them to do everything but they must contribute in any way they can.