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Have fun for free in Georgetown County

Georgetown County, a gateway to South Carolina’s Lowcountry, remains afloat with various ways to enjoy free fun, especially with autumn’s arrival and a chill in the weather felt this past week.

Here’s five places to have fun for free in Georgetown County:

1. and 2. | Two such choices are anchored together in downtown Georgetown, with the newly opened S.C. Maritime Museum. Its opening in December resulted from many years of funds the Harbor Historical Association accrued and saved from the annual Wooden Boat Show, of which the next edition sails Oct. 20.

Last Saturday afternoon, several passers-by stopped in the museum and walked onto its refinished maple wood floors on which McCrory’s shoppers once stepped more than a century ago.

Susan Sanders, the museum director, went around the front half of the site, pointing out various local and historical collections to the ship models and photos on display.

A model of the USS Harvest Moon, sunk in 1865 in Winyah Bay by Confederate forces, was built and donated by Elliott Smith, who had an ancestor among the ship’s crew. Sanders said a part of the 200-foot-long vessel can still be seen jutting out from the water, and she has met a man who told her about his forebear who “made the torpedo that blew up this boat.”

Another model, on loan, shows the schooner City of Georgetown, which with a single deck and a short poop deck – a partial deck at the stern – carried many tons of pine and cypress lumber between 1902 and 1913 to the Northeast, until its collision with the Hamburg, Germany-bound Prinz Oskar.

Get up close to the South Carolina Oyster Sloop model, and see its cargo full and living up to its name, and along the exposed brick wall, touch a 7-foot-long piece of oak framing from a wreck of a wooden ship near Cape Hatteras, N.C., “graveyard of the Atlantic Ocean,” the wall card states.

A painted portrait used on the Wooden Boat Show poster stood next to a window-front skiff resembling what 15 teams will each compete and build on Oct. 20. Sanders touted its autobiographical edge, by the artist, Keels Culbertson Swinnie, who showed herself at age 13 with her father building a boat at home in Pawleys Island 17 years ago. Sanders said Swine’s father, who “looks exactly like that today,” refinished the floors for the museum exhibit space and he competed in the inaugural years of the boat challenge.

Sanders, from Beaufort, N.C. – pronounced “BOW-fort” there, unlike “BEW-fort” in South Carolina – grew up appreciating maritime ways of life. She said this new museum pays respect to the industry, which fueled the wealth that let Georgetown prosper as a port with former cash crops of rice and indigo.

“That is what made this town,” she said, referring to the wealth that fueled the neighborhood blocks away with historic homes, “and made it look like this.”

The photo exhibit “Lumber Schooners,” extended through the boat show, with 26 black-and white pictures lining the walls, walks visitors back in sea heritage, showing, for example, four schooners wharfside at two of the then-four largest lumber companies in Georgetown.

Sanders said she envisions the next exhibit focusing on the port in 1905, when its East Coast tonnage shipped was tops. Sally Swineford, a volunteer boat-show coordinator, stood in the museum gallery, regaling over its central location, on the riverfront – a perfect place, she said, to command more exposure to chronicling the city’s maritime heritage.

With the back half of the museum making up the next phase to develop, Sanders said plenty of room remains for this community with ties to the sea to share more heritage and lineage, “because we owe it all to the maritime industry” for the beginnings of Georgetown.

3.) Check out a book, CD, DVD or other resources, or take part in a program, through Georgetown County Library. The main branch in downtown Georgetown is open seven days a week through the school year, and the Anderws and Waccamaw Neck (Pawleys Island) sites are open Mondays-Saturdays, while Carvers Bay, in the northern tip of the county, is available Tuesdays-Saturdays.

4. ) At the Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge, midway between Georgetown and Conway, nature lovers can hike trails, picnic, fish, photograph birds and wildlife, bring a canoe or kayak to drop into either of two designated S.C. scenic rivers: the Great Pee Dee and Waccamaw. One trail leads from the refuge Visitor & Environmental Education Center on U.S. 701, 20 miles north of the city of Georgetown.

Find other paths along the Great Pee Dee River at the Great Pee Dee River at the U.S. 701 bridge, just north of Yauhannah Lake, and in the Cox Ferry Lake Recreation Area, close to Conway. Anyone in the hunt for birdwatching can count on a habitat frequented by more than 200 species, especially endangered swallow-tailed kites.

5. ) The Marsh Walk in Murrells Inlet lets anyone get an even closer view of the water than diners overlooking the scene from the seven proximate restaurants: Bovine’s Wood-Fired Specialties, Captain Dave’s Dockside, Creek Ratz, Dead Dog Saloon, Divine Fish House, Drunken Jack’s, and Spud’s Waterfront Dining.

Stroll the boardwalks and docks and see how many egrets are fishing for their own dinner, what boaters are sailing in and the catches they’ve brought home, see what’s inbound and outbound from the Crazy Sister Marina, and hear the different music playing from the rear of each eatery.