In case you havenít lately, pass down Teche Drive and take a look at the fine job the city has done on the pavilion at Parc sur la Teche.

Theyíre putting the finishing touches on it and I gotta say, the dang thing looks brand new. Kudos to all involved.

The Bayou Teche Bear Festival surely will be appreciative of the new-and-improved pavilion as well, and the folks whoíll be coming to town next weekend are going to see that here in Franklin weíre serious about putting our best face forward.

Sadly, the same canít be said for parish-owned facilities, one of which at the corner of Main and Willow still has a fence around it that I swear I saw in some futuristic, post-nuclear war doomsday movie or another.

***

Word reaches us this morning that the Amelia Belle Casino riverboat wonít be opening next week as promised ó again.

That means theyíve pulled their application from the April gaming boardís agenda, and will have to reapply at the May meeting, which at best bodes for a June opening.

Meanwhile, word on the street is that the parish has offered municipalities a deal, wherein they can participate in a bond issue for long-term expectations of riverboat revenues and receive something on the order of $300,000, or choose not to participate and get a check for about $30,000.

One hopes that the mayors in St. Mary Parish will recognize a sweet deal when they see it, take the thirty grand and run like hell.

***

So you wonder, besides being a complainer, whatís my idea?

I hate to keep harping on Natchitoches, but when I was there in November, all I could think to myself was, "This is Franklin. This is Franklin with vision and some dressing-up."

Certainly, the vision seems to be here at last. Natchitoches has nothing on Franklin. Our downtown districts are comparable, and we might even have a slight edge, or at least a trade-off, in that their storefronts face beautiful Cane River Lake, but weíve got the entire Teche Drive area and the historic homes to the east on the boulevard.

Now, donít think Iíve got some master plan in my head that Iím pushing. Iím going with the flow, and the flow Iím seeing now is a good one. Itís coming from city hall, and the Bear Festival people, and Iíll grudgingly admit, at some level parish government.

Just in the last few years, take a look at whatís happened! An entire lamppost rejuvenation. Anyone who doesnít think that was a massive project, nothing short of a small miracle, doesnít understand the scope of what it took. The Teche Theatre is another example of a monumental undertaking, not once, but twice after Hurricane Lily nearly ruined it all over again. Yet another small miracle. The parish took over the Blevins building and Walterís and, despite their mystifying indifference to the ugliness on that one corner of the property, did a bang-up job of rejuvenating that entire area.

I like what Iím seeing. I like the Center Theater concept. I like the Bear Festival and Harvest Moon and Gumbo Cook-off. I think those are rip-roaring steps to be applaudedÖbut they remain just thatÖsteps. All too often we get sidetracked in our endeavors. I donít want it to happen again.

I know, because it happened to me. I spent too many years writing exclusively fishing, cat and "a funny thing happened on the way to the store" columns instead of doing what any newsman worth his salt does: Use this tool the Constitution guarantees me to better our community. Those days are done. Iím still largely a literary writer, but from now on, when there are problems that need to be addressed, fires that need to be lit, and above all, pats on the back when deserved, Iím going to be here.

Government has grown complacent in many regards, but I see an awakening at some level, and I like it. The things that disturb me, at the same time, are a return to a set of political conditions at the parish level which we hoped we had rid ourselves of when we finally adopted and executed home rule, despite the best efforts of the miscreants to defeat it back in the early 1980s. Power seems to be leaning east, and the back door dealings certainly never went away, but they havenít been so obvious and ridiculous in many years. You got east end council members making once-in-a-lifetime appearances in Mardi Gras parades in influential districts on the west end, for cripes sake. Can you get much more obvious? Those old police jury days seem to be rearing their ugly heads again, and thatís intolerable.

So my "idea" for our area is to encourage and support it. Iím all for whatís going on with the bayouside, the theater, the festivals, you name it. Franklin is one of the central keys. I like Bear Fest and Harvest Moon and Gumbo Cook-off, but I donít want a return of the festivals of the 1980s. These are much better, much more family-oriented events with just enough adult diversions to keep it broadly appealing.

I can envision a day when people like me who went to see Natchitoches because of its reputation of a must-see venue will be coming here to see Franklin, whatever niche we find for ourselves. And thatís what itís all about, finding a niche. That doesnít have to be one thing, a niche can hold several components.

Weíve got so much potential here and weíve been carelessly wasting it for decades. It seems like weíre getting more careful. Letís roll.