Pine Bluff does not offer a lot of reasons for visitors to come to town. That may change in the future, but for now, there's the casino and little else.
That is, except for this time of the year when, for close to three decades, we have had the Enchanted Land of Lights and Legends, a mile-plus of Christmas and holiday lights that includes more than 200 displays from businesses and individuals.
No matter how many times one drives through the exhibit, the array and number of displays is jaw-dropping. Well, that's our jaw we're speaking of. But others must agree, as each year, thousands of people leave their homes in Pine Bluff, from across Arkansas and from other states to make the trip to Regional Park to see the lights.
We are assured that the lights will happen this year. But to date, the exhibit is not working. As in, there is nothing but darkness at the park.
The problem has, according to city officials, been a perfect storm of a mess. They started getting the lights ready in early October, but one confounding crisis after another has added days and weeks to the normal amount of time it usually takes to get to that point where someone throws a switch and everyone smiles. So far, there are just frowns.
From listening to those whose responsibility it is to make this project work, it is difficult to point to one or another to lay blame, and really, there is no need for that. The recipe has included one flood, the exacting nature of FEMA money and inexperienced workers. Stir in some miscommunication and voila!
But at the end of each additional day, when the lights are still not working, well, it just shows poorly on the entire city.
Maybe the disappointment from Pine Bluff residents is low, considering the car ride to the park is short. But we imagine there are people from all over the area who, as part of their holiday tradition, have driven to Pine Bluff to experience the light display. For those individuals to be met with "display closed" signs must be pretty aggravating, especially at $3 a gallon for gasoline.
We can only imagine the grumbling: Can't Pine Bluff get anything right?
And if you thought the answer was for organizers to get started sooner on the project, well, they say that's problematic because to leave the displays up too long invites vandalism. The tools in a shed, for instance, were all stolen, and one of the main problems now is the lack of a meter, which, officials say, was probably stolen as well.
It's enough to make one sigh.
One city official assures us that the lights will happen and that they are not canceled. We'll take him at his word. So soonish, the displays should be all aglow, delighting the thousands who will come. We live in hope.