Hereís something interesting for you to chew on:
A canoe/kayak enthusiast in this very community paddled with 22 people through the Bayou Teche National Wildlife Refuge during the weekend of the Bear Festival. Those visitors included folks from four states and Canada.
In all, since my friend has been encouraging paddlers to come to St. Mary Parish to sample our locales, 13 states and seven countries have been represented.
By and large, theyíve all been overwhelmed by what weíve got here.
If, for instance, those 22 people during the festival weekend spent just $100 each, weíre talking $2,200 some local businesses would realize profit. In one weekend. Never mind the priceless value of "word of mouth."
Okay, bear with me now: Immediately some no-account wearing blinders is going to start scoffing, spouting off, "That dang Stouff, he donít care about nothing but canoes in that dang refuge Small change. We got bigger problems!"
You know, of course, to ignore such simpletons, right?
Itís frustrating sometimes, when we elect people to represent and enhance us, and then they puh-shaw ideas just because itís not big.
Iím talking pieces of a pie. I can take a pie and cut it into virtually as many pieces as I want. Half. Quarters. Eighths. Whatever.
And thatís what weíve got here, and what we should be working on: A very large pie called St. Mary Parish, and we can cash in on every piece of it if weíll just stop scoffing at what we perceive to be small change in favor of, certainly possible, but still less likely, big bills.
I certainly am still applauding location of tenants at both our ports, and Iím still pushing for Ė sometimes harshly Ė development of our industrial park facility on the Baldwin Canal.
But I donít want us to lose sight of the pieces of the pie. Weíve got so much to offer here. We just need to take the blinders off, stop scoffing at the so-called "small change" and work it all out.
Hereís what my friend tells me that canoe/kayak enthusiasts like: To spend as much time outside as possible, and theyíre willing to pay for it. They drive nice vehicles with canoes and Ďyaks that cost anywhere from a grand to two grand or more. They carry these on racks that cost four or five hundred bucks. They like to tour the areas they paddle, too, on-water and off.
What theyíd prefer is to have a camping area, preferably very close to the point where theyíd launch for their day of touring. Most like to camp. Really camp, not just RV. Pitch a tent, in other words. Most would rather not stay in a motel, admittedly, because theyíre eager for the outdoors experience.
By and large, they wish that in addition to all these fantastic scenes and refuges and canals and bayous, we had just a few simple accommodations for them.
A simple campground would be a mighty fine place to start.
Not much needed: Restrooms and rudimentary showers are essential. Other than that, places to pitch a tent, a few lights. Iím thinking of a few spots on Bayou Teche in Franklin that would be quite nice for such a thing. Iím thinking the wooded area next to the Willow Street bridge opposite Eastwood? Iím thinking, near the boat landing at the opposite end of Willow Street at the Franklin Canal? There are possibilities.
Envision this: The cityís plan to turn the Center Theater into an open-air plaza. For the purpose of this discussion only, it doesnít matter if the façade is saved or removed. Main Street and Teche Drive are then linked to Bayou Teche through that corridor where the Center is, and lead to Parc sur la Teche which would look out over the campground.
Okay, so we get 100 paddling visitors a month, and they each spend $50-$100 bucks in town. Thatís a $5,000-10,000 piece of the pie we didnít have before.
Now, dear Parish Council officials, I honestly donít mean this in a negative way, I promise: But, if we can build a multi-million dollar golf course for one set of enthusiasts, maybe we can all get together, parish, city, tourism, and find a way to spend a few dollars to attract another set of enthusiasts? Maybe a few sets?
No, I donít mean take my word. I donít mean take my friendís word. But a sit-down with a group of clubs and organizations to hear first-hand what theyíre looking for might be very lucrative, no?
Iím just starting there. Letís still think about fishermen. Bicyclists might use that campgroundÖthereís that Old Spanish Trail bicycle trail-path-route right there running smack dab through town. Letís think about birdwatchers. Scouting troops. Thereís people out there that will spend good money to experience a quiet canal full of Spanish moss dangling from oaks and cypress and turning a bend in the bayou to find a rookery of wading and shore birds. Good money.
Letís think about folks just visiting for festivals, who might be staying at a local bed and breakfast, an inn, and looking for something to do. Letís say we do get a big tenant at one of the ports or the industrial park that hires folks with money and looking for things to do.
To paraphrase Field of Dreams, If you build it, will they come? I donít know for certain, of course. But itís obvious if you donít build it, they wonít.
Pieces of the pie, and theyíre so easy to slice and serve. As long as we can learn to quit scoffing at the small change, not lose our focus on the big picture, but realize that all wholes are a sum of their parts.