Letter to the Editor: The Lie of Natchitoches

I’m going to say something that I’ve thought the last two decades: this town hasn’t grown much in over 100 years. We have not focused on the bare minimum for water quality, roadways, and other crumbling infrastructure. We don’t serve our communities, our neighborhoods, and especially our locals. We don’t support art or creative expression and we exploit the ones that try to build it. We have drunk festivals to drown ourselves into forgetting so we may not focus on the impending death of our town that’s clearly visible from the outside.

First; We act like having a local college will collectively help bring more people to this town where they have horrible roads and brown water. Why, if they do manage to decide to come here would they desire to stay? No one talks about how the majority of the students that the local campus boasts about when they tell the public their office enrollment numbers are virtual students. They aren’t even in Natchitoches. I’m banking they aren’t even in Louisiana.

We haven’t grown. We don’t face the things that are needed. Building a few new amenities like Parc Natchitoches was a great idea, and it does bring teams here, but it just isn’t enough. A new renovated downtown looks awesome and the lights being on only shine as a beacon for people to, in hopes, utilize it at all hours of the day. Yet they shun locals from just using it. It should be a FREE permitted service. It’s ours. It belongs to all of us. We should have to schedule it to use it but they don’t need my money to pay their salaries for a downtown that’s supposed to be the community’s public space. We’re running the locals away… Rent the downtown and be ready to tell your events attendees to drive slow and drink brown water. That’s why we have drinking festivals. To get drunk and forget about how bad the infrastructure is.

I’m going to say something else that will anger some and make other people uncomfortable: Natchitoches isn’t a tourist destination. Let me say that again: Natchitoches isn’t a tourist destination. It’s an ‘also’ destination. It’s an afterthought. It’s a crumbling city that with each new generation we keep doing the same things we’ve been doing and have been told to do in order to preserve our heritage. Our history. Our culture. We’ve failed to realize that cultures evolve, communities should grow, people should be encouraged to expand their knowledge and we should understand what actually makes visitors want to visit downtown.

Closing doors at 5pm doesn’t help tourists or the locals that work 9-5. It’s a self serving and self destructive idea of a tourist centered destination. I’m not saying that businesses should stay open until midnight, but maybe reflect on how they want to stay engaged. I’ve seen actual tourists towns, we’re not one.

The ones in charge of tourist attractions, festivals and other events will throw numbers at you. But ask yourself why? The Christmas Festivals numbers are up. The experts have been working on that for a while! They cut down the parade, cut out things to make it more family oriented, cut out people that were part of it for years for the sake of not offending and what you get is inevitable: a dying parade that no one wants to see or be part of. It’s shrinking. The attendance is shrinking. Sure, there’s a payoff: they’re making money from the festival finally: by charging the vendors, the locals, and by the stupid ticket system it’s driving people away. But the numbers. Look at the numbers. We’ve finally reached a point where the festival pays for itself… great. That’s necessary… but the photos don’t lie either. There’s more evidence of less and less people here. Empty streets barricaded on all ends. Locals are leaving. Visiting other towns, cities, and events. It’s dying because it’s a reflection of how far we’ve gone… the wrong way down a one way street paved with bricks.

No visible sign of art or a community that supports art. No system in place to help and cater to those who try to give back to the community, the culture, the creative. Those things are what brings people here. It’s what we all used to rally around. Art. Creative expression and events that matter! Art is cultural. A few Art Along The Bricks and we support art?! Give me a break. Another disenfranchised attempt to get people into the downtown businesses. It’s a shame that people don’t actually support artists in this town.

I’ve seen towns that support art. Photography in spaces, murals on every block, music on every corner… we hinder expression here for fear of losing control over what we ultimately show the world want: this place as it was 300 years ago.

And I’m also going to say this. Steel Magnolias won’t carry us another 30 years. It’s time to give that up. Unless Dolly Parton plans to move here and have signature days down on the riverbank, I think we should let that movie go. It’s great. It happened. It was about a local. Ok. We all know the story and it’s honestly plagued our minds for far too long. Remember. Have a ‘thing’ once in a while, and move on. The real people in the story moved on and left this town. Maybe we can take that as a lesson!?!

As a city, we’re the last one to try things for fear of losing our history, while we are becoming that history we want to hold dear. Stagnation is slow death. Fear of change is slow death. Lies are slow death. I guess we can turn the college into a prison when it ultimately closes due to declining local attendance and turning to an online education program, and jail the juvenile population that seems to keep locals in fear of what’s next….

David Walker

The views and opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the Natchitoches Parish Journal.  If you have an article or story of interest for publishing
consideration by the NPJ, please send it to NPJNatLa@gmail.com.