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Ready to launch

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

The Carroll Ashmore Campbell Marine Complex on the Sampit River hasn’t officially opened yet, but Georgetown County residents are pinning big hopes on the new $7 million facility.

When the project was pitched a dozen years ago, it was as a tool for economic growth, something the county needs desperately now that the unemployment rate has topped 15 percent.

With a high quality public landing capable of accommodating large numbers of boaters, it was predicted the county could attract more sport fishing tournaments. That could have an economic impact of about $900,000 a year, according to county officials. And the impact could be greater, depending on the size of the tournaments.

When the Bassmaster Classic came to Greenville in 2008, published reports said it had a direct economic impact of more than $13 million.

“We’re incredibly excited about this facility,” said Beth Goodale, the county’s director of Parks and Recreation. “This has been long awaited and it’s going to open up some new opportunities for us, plus it offers great access to the waterways, and we certainly know that is needed.”

Part of the county’s capital improvement plan, the complex has parking for 200 vehicles with boat trailers, six launch ramps, a 4,000-square-foot outdoor event area, a floating courtesy dock, rest room facilities and parking for vehicles without trailers.

The complex will host its first event, a boat show and “water sport extravaganza,” Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The event will include seminars on two stages throughout the day, nine boat dealers, giveaways, food and a variety of displays.

A ribbon cutting for the complex will be at 10 a.m. Monday.

While Goodale estimates it will take “at least a couple of years” for the complex to start attracting major tournaments and having the kind of economic impact predicted, two tournaments are already booked.

The complex will host a local tournament sponsored by Service Over Self in June. In September, the International Fishing Association’s Redfish Tour will stop in Georgetown County. So far, that’s its only stop in South Carolina, Goodale said.

While the recession has caused some decline in numbers, fishing tournaments typically draw 200 to 300 boaters, according to tournament anglers, and those boaters inevitably spend money in the community.

“You’re paying for fuel, tackle, lodging, food and all kinds of miscellaneous things,” said Andrew Justice of Litchfield Country Club. He fishes in 10 to 15 tournaments a year, from North Carolina to Florida and said costs can add up to $2,000 a day.

Even for a brief stay, “you’re at least going to buy gas,” said Rick Ryan, a Pawleys Island area resident. “Nobody drags a boat here full of gas, because of the weight. It’s too dangerous, so you’ll probably bring it here close to empty. And you’ll probably buy groceries here, and get all the cheese and crackers, sodas, beer, ice and stuff you’ll take on the boat.”

Some fishermen spend much of January through November traveling between the Outer Banks and Texas for tournaments, according to Ryan.

“You can do it just about every weekend,” he said. He used to travel to about 25 tournaments a year, but he’s cut back to 10.

“For some qualifying tournaments, professionals come to fish for two or three weeks before the tournament and might bring their families with them,” said Lin Fore, owner of Lowcountry Expeditions, an inshore guide fishing service in Georgetown.

“These are national events like NASCAR,” he added. “It’s a big deal and they’re always looking for new places, but they need a big facility.”

With the opening of the new complex, located across the river from International Paper, Fore said he believes Georgetown County will be in the running to host such events.

When the concept for the complex was introduced, the Five Rivers Coalition, a local sportsman’s advocacy group, contacted several major fishing organizations that have tournaments to gauge interest Georgetown County as a new site.

The response was positive, according to Fore, the coalition president. Now that the complex is complete, he said the group will start contacting those folks again and he expects there will be some interest.

“They’re continually looking for new spots and here is kind of unique, because you can put in at the landing and be on saltwater in five minutes or be on fresh water in five minutes,” Fore said. That makes the landing ideal for bass, redfish or king mackerel fishing tournaments.

There’s no way to know yet if the complex will be able to do everything folks are hoping for the county’s economy, but regardless, “it’s going to have a positive impact,” Fore said.

“It can’t hurt; I can promise you that,” said Stuart Ballard, president of Tailwalker Marine in Georgetown. “A lot of places don’t have the assets Georgetown has as far as natural beauty and these large tracts of land that are still in tact. When you go down our bay, you get the feeling of untouched wilderness, whereas in Charleston you’re surrounded by development.”

He said that gives Georgetown a big advantage — one it can make the most of with a quality boat landing.

Boaters have complained the older landings at South Island Road and East Bay Park don’t have enough parking to accommodate demand and are in disrepair.

“The one at the park, the ramp was built when I was a boy and the bulkheads are rotten and caving in,” Ballard said. The new landing is “a 100-fold improvement over what we’ve got.”

Ryan was at the new complex about a month ago and said “it’s about as first class as I’ve ever seen as far as layout.”

The complex is named for the late Gov. Carroll Campbell Jr., who was an avid sport fisherman.

His widow, Iris Campbell of DeBordieu, said he would be happy to have his name attached to the facility, not only because he loved fishing, but because the facility is anticipated to help the economy and create jobs. That was always a priority for him, she said.

“I was a little hesitant to lend his name to it at first, but my sons convinced me he would have wanted it, and I think it was the right decision,” she said. “He would have been so excited to see this.”

She and her oldest son, Carroll Campbell III, who is running for Congress, will be on hand to help open the facility.

“I’m sorry he’s not here to participate,” her son said. “It’s a wonderful tribute to him.”

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