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Winyah Bay Heritage Festival highlights animals, area

The fourth Winyah Bay Heritage Festival in Georgetown will go to the dogs this weekend.

Before the fest even begins formally Saturday, for awareness in conserving and preserving the Winyah Bay region's history and outdoor recreation, the first of three days of Dixie Dock Dog competitions will take place today, starring canines that make a splash with their leaps, in a long, above-ground pool at East Bay Park.

Three years ago, Bill and Nancy Akin of Athens, Ga., started the Dixie Dock Dogs affiliate (www.dixiedockdogs.com) of Medina, Ohio-based DockDogs Inc. Bill Akin said festival officials invited them to set up and show the sport at Georgetown County's East Bay Park. With a 40-foot-long running start, canines jump into a 40-foot-long, 41/2-foot-deep pool in competitions such as Big Air (distance), Extreme Vertical and speed retrieving.

"It's really a family type of event," Bill Akin said. "Anybody can compete as long as the human participants are least 7 years old and the dogs are at least 6 months old."

This sport doesn't appeal solely to specific breeds such as retrievers and water dogs.

"We have all types of dogs," Akin said. "We've seen a Boston terrier jump 9 to 10 feet across, and Yorkshire terriers jump 7 feet."

He called this growing nationwide pastime something that "everybody enjoys watching."

"We try to make it even more enjoyable by making audiences more involved," Akin said, inviting festivalgoers to register their pooches to compete. "No one is a professional in this sport. Anybody can do this."

His tips include keeping dogs on a 4-foot leash, keeping drinking water handy in a container, and bringing a throw toy - "something the dog likes, which must float, but it cannot be alive or have ever been alive, and no food."

Even if dog owners aren't ready to enter a competition - a $25 fee per event applies - coaches and helpers will help acclimate the dogs and owners, and dogs can simply practice, without pressure.

Akin said he and his wife have four Labradors, three of which they took in from dog-rescue groups, and their club counts 70 human members, from Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee.

Taking flight

Ben Klopp, co-chairman of the festival planning committee, said the Dixie Dock Dogs events and a visit on Sunday morning by the Center for Birds of Prey, from Awendaw, on U.S. 17 northeast of Mount Pleasant, mark two new activities.

"We just wanted to add to our heritage," he said.

With the festival making its return for the first time since 2009, Klopp said the dogs' and raptors' added presence help fulfill the purpose of celebrating the heritage and outdoors of Winyah Bay and raising funds for the Georgetown County Historical Society and Georgetown County Museum, the latter in need of larger space for its 300 years' worth of area artifacts.

Richard Camlin, among the more than 150 volunteers organizing and staging the festival, said he had seen Center for Birds of Prey personnel lead demonstrations with raptors in other places.

"I just know from working at Hobcaw Barony," said Camlin, senior interpreter for the Belle W. Baruch Foundation, just north of Georgetown, "that people love seeing birds of prey, and you don't see them often."

Thinking of youth, festival planners also will preview the S.C. State Duck-Calling Contest on Sunday afternoon with a youth duck-calling clinic on Saturday and calling contest for ages 16 and younger late Sunday morning.

"That is an art in itself," Klopp said of such vocal skills.

Camlin also remembered the fun children had with the Japanese art of gyotaku, or fish-image printing, at the 2009 festival, so this year, besides the option of painting wooden duck decoys bearing the festival logo, youths can cut out retriever silhouettes to color.

"No age group is left out," Klopp said. "We feel it is important to provide good activities to get them interested in the outdoors. The awareness can never end; we need to show this to the generations coming up."

Digging into history

On the theme of preservation, Hal McGirt of Columbia was among the exhibitors at the festival two years ago in Winyah Gym. He had a display of artifacts he had found through metal detections at area plantations.

A few months afterward, one of the land owners where McGirt had searched, suggested he write a book about his historic finds, supplemented with background to their use and users. McGirt said sales of his new book, "Carolina Rice Plantations: History Uncovered," will help forward the cause shared by the Georgetown County Historical Society. The 81/2-by- 11-inch hardcover showcases 530 photographs on 108 pages and will be available at the festival. He will have an exhibit in Winyah Gym.

McGirt said nearly all the relics shown in the book, such as muskets, coins, buttons, slave-made and worn jewelry, and tags borne by slaves, were unearthed in Georgetown County, dating back as far as the 17th century, with preservation aided by proximity to the Atlantic coast. "The soil is relatively neutral," he said, "so you don't get the metallic corrosion you have in other parts of the state."

McGirt said he borrows only land for his searches in the past 20 years, and photographs, then relays any goods he finds to the respective property owners.

"Georgetown County is just absolutely chock full of history," McGirt said, "and it's been a big thrill to be able to document some of it."

McGirt said a one-way commute for him to any plantation in the county spans at least 150 miles, but he treasures such buried treasures, and he hopes that no one else, upon stumbling any such item, tosses it "in the junk bin."

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