There's just no place like our hometown

The longer you spend here, the more you learn about Bradenton. And the more you find to love and appreciate about our remarkable community.

Just the other day I witnessed something I couldn't have imagined seeing here. Yet there it unfolded before my eyes, while walking my dog along a sidewalk down 71st Street West, just south of Seabreeze Elementary School. A young man was standing on a bank beside a runoff creek, casting a fly rod expertly, it seemed into the shadows of a small pool. (It would have to be a small pool, as there is often barely a trickle of water running through this urban gorge.) The repeated swishing of the fly line as it looped back and forth seemed like something out of A River Runs Through It.'' Well, except for the mobile home park that provided the backdrop to this unusual scene. Adding to the surrealism: The angler's mode of transportation, a skateboard, lay on the bank beside him. Turns out our intrepid fisherman was tempting a nice bass'' that he had caught several times previously and released. Where did the fish come from? What is the origin of this water source, and whence does it flow from here? There are great discoveries waiting to be unearthed just off the beaten paths of our bustling thoroughfares. The majestic banyan trees that canopy Fontana Lane in northwest Bradenton. Juicy burgers served on napkins at Council's Bradenton Recrea-tion Parlor. All manner of fun and games at G.T. Bray park. And urban anglers testing unlikely waters. Other attractions are so obvious you might easily, over time, take them for granted. Living on the west coast of Florida has many built-in rewards: the subtropical weather, pristine beaches, scenic waterfront haunts and spectacular sunsets over the Gulf of Mexico. These are the lures that seduce vacationing tourists and turn occasional visitors into recurring snowbirds. And as residents we claim this paradise for ourselves 365 days a year 366 this leap year. Fishermen, boaters, swimmers, bird lovers, gardeners and sun worshippers are among those who can thank their lucky stars for the opportunities that abound for them throughout the year. You wouldn't need much more to keep you happy. Yet there is so much more about Bradenton, much of it remarkable and often unique, that defines our character and sets us apart from communities and urban centers to the north, south and east. And all of it is worth celebrating: our history, our people, our commerce, and perhaps most importantly our future. There is a buzz in Bradenton these days that can't be muffled by the challenging economic times. You can hear it at our monthly Get Down Downtown bash and you can see it during our ArtWalks and other community get-togethers. We remain The Friendly City'' as the sign at McKechnie Field proudly declares but we are a progressive community on the move, with blueprints for a promising future. For more than 30 years, the Bradenton Herald has granted Golden Herald awards to the top graduating seniors in our high schools. In judging the finalists in 15 different categories, it is amazing to learn how many of these talented young people want to return here after their college careers to re-establish roots and make a difference in their hometown. They will make us even better. Welcome to the Herald's annual installment of Celebrate Bradenton. On the pages of this special section we do just that. We hope you'll high-five along with us as we share stories and images that capture the essence of our community, which this year celebrates its 105th anniversary. There's no place like Bradenton. Our hometown. Jim Smith is managing editor of the Bradenton Herald. Contact him at 745-7021 or e-mail jsmith@bradenton.com.