Bravo, bravo and bravo again to the organizers, sponsors and participants in last weekend’s Fourth Annual Bayou Teche Bear Festival.

What an outstanding event, and what a great showing Franklin and St. Mary Parish made for our own citizens and our out-of-the-area visitors. I heard nothing but good about the festival, and the hours I spent there were completely enjoyable.

I won’t try to enumerate the many who put this thing together and made it work because I’ll surely forget someone, but I certainly want to acknowledge Manager Laura Goulas. Laura was suffering from a bad bug the couple of weeks prior to the festival, but scarcely slowed down a bit through closing time Saturday. Good work.

Good job, all of you.

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From the "for what it’s worth" department, I have it on excellent authority that the derelict rust-bucket fence surrounding the ramp on the side of the Blevin’s Building will be replaced in a month or so, though I’m assured this move has nothing to do with me or this column.

Regardless, I’m now hereby mum on the topic until it’s done, at which point the praises and grateful appreciation will rain in a shower. I do want to remind those in charge that in addition to a building permit, Franklin Historic District approval will be needed for the replacement, just to make sure that everything’s kosher.

Until then…

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I understand the boat tours through the Bear Refuge were running with a complete complement of tourists all day Saturday. I tried to get in on a couple when I wasn’t having to shoot some photo or another on the festival grounds, but there was never room.

Anyone with a half a noggin will realize that this proves what many people have been saying all along: We’ve got quite a jewel here in this area with the refuge, the marsh and the basin in general. Combined with our historic districts, fine dining, tours, antebellum homes and the like, the only mystery is how Franklin continues to be a best-kept secret.

I used to think there was a concerted effort to keep us a sort of southern Brigadoon, a ghostly, half-real town that people glimpsed now and then but never really were sure existed. I’ve begun to believe it was more a matter of that and lack of trying. Those days may well be over.

We underestimate what length people will go to see moss, cypress knees and alligators from a boat. We don’t really realize how precious a town this is because we see it every day. I overheard several of the visiting queens from other Louisiana festivals raving about how nice Franklin is, and how they couldn’t believe they had never been here or even really heard of our town before.

Best kept secrets. That cat needs to be let out of the bag.

Business and industry are good, they’re great, jobs and all that are fine and dandy. But we’ve been overlooking a magical wonderland of eco-tourism here, and I think some of us are finally figuring it out.

There’s an undeniable hard-headed stubbornness within Franklin and St. Mary Parish still clinging to it. A refusal to understand that our hey-day as an oil hotbed faded long ago. Now we have to start over, and luckily, the recent economic uplift has given us a great opportunity to do so. We have to get over, or at least ignore, that mule-headed, morning coffee-clutch of complaining and negativism.

Our public officials are showing promise, and we need to throw our unbridled support and encouragement to those who are, while holding the feet of those who aren’t to the fire. We need to hold those nattering nabobs of negativism, to quote Spiro Agnew, responsible for moving this area forward instead of resting on their laurels or taking up exclusively static projects.

In other words, we can build all the hospitals, elevators, water plants and roads we can afford, a great benefit to those who live here. But they’re not expansive. That’s what I mean by self-serving projects. I don’t mean they are useless, I mean they only benefit the residents and businesses that are already here and serve nothing to market, advertise or spotlight the area’s attractions, amenities and infrastructure. Once we get them here to take advantage of our hospitals, elevators, water plants and roads, then we’ve accomplished something.

Okay, sales taxes are booming. Government coffers are swelling. It’s not a gold rush by any means, but there’s some extra money in the bank, no doubt about it.

A quick Yahoo! Directory search reveals six Internet pages of travel magazines…how many are we advertising in, blowing our own horns in? Retirement venue periodicals take up at least one page.

Canoeists are among the biggest, most well-traveled outdoor enthusiasts out there. With just a few simple, inexpensive amenities, we could attract throngs of them into the bear refuge, up and down Bayou Teche, into the basin. Those who come here from out-of-parish and out-of-state marvel at the greatness we have here, but say we’re just not canoeist-friendly in our provisions. Providing a boat-landing isn’t enough.

We’ve made a few leaps and bounds forward. Let’s not stop now!