Winyah Bay Heritage Festival back after absence in 2010

The Winyah Bay Heritage Festival is back.

Last year, organizers said the economy was just too bad to hold what would have been the fourth year of the festival that benefits the Georgetown County Museum.

"A lot of people in Georgetown had lost their jobs," said Jill Santopietro, museum director. "It just wasn't a good time."

The 3-day festival takes place this weekend, beginning Friday morning.

A year ago, the unemployment rate in Georgetown County was about 14 percent, said Wayne Gregory, county economic development director. "Now things are starting to improve."

The unemployment rate now is a bit below 12 percent.

"I'm not saying it's perfect," Gregory said. "But we're seeing a strong uptick."

Santopietro said sponsors for this year's festival have been readily available.

"People are contacting us asking if they can help sponsor the festival, rather than us approaching them," she said. "We have had a lot of people say to us 'We're so glad you're back.'"

The festival's goal, aside from raising money for the county museum, is to raise awareness about the Winyah Bay area's outdoorsy culture.

Santopietro said some of the first tourists came to the area because of the good hunting and fishing.

President Grover Cleveland visited Georgetown County and while duck hunting, fell out of his boat and had to be rescued from the water. His trip made national headlines.

"That made other people aware of Georgetown County," she said. "The next thing you had happening was wealthy northerners coming to Georgetown to hunt and fish."

And she said many of those plantations were eventually turned into conservation areas.

"It really has made us a different place," she said.

"It's a wonderful legacy that we're celebrating."

Celebrating that legacy means everything from its wares to outdoor-inspired events, said festival co-chairman Ben Klopp.

The longest standing event is the S.C. State Duck Calling contest.

This year, there will be a duck calling clinic and small competition for children to take part in, said festival events Chairman Richard Camlin.

The hope is that getting children interested in duck calling will increase participation in and spectators for the event, he said.

A new event for the festival this year is the Dixie Dock Dogs competition, where dogs of all kinds will jump for distance and height, and to see how quickly they can retrieve an object from the other end of the pool.

Santopietro said that event seemed fitting because it's similar to the previous retriever trials. She said more than 100 dogs are already scheduled to come and the only pet friendly hotel in town, the Jameson Inn, is booked.