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Playing tourist: Heritage Corridor program gives locals a chance to see sites they take for granted

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

There was a customary buzz of excitement as 32 people — loaded down with travel guides and brochures — boarded a tour bus early one morning last week for a long day of Georgetown County sightseeing.

It was a common enough sight in an area where tourism is bread and butter, but the group on the bus weren’t typical tourists. They were all locals, looking to become more familiar with or refresh their knowledge of the county’s many attractions.

“I’ve been to a few of these places,” said Racheal Williams, an employee at Quality Inn & Suites in Georgetown, as she scanned the day’s itinerary. Starting at Hopsewee Plantation, it took the group into the city of Georgetown where they visited several museums, strolled the Harborwalk and learned about churches in the historic district.

Then they drove across the river to the Waccamaw Neck where they had lunch at Inlet Affairs, visited the Murrells Inlet Marsh Walk and stopped at Brookgreen Gardens, Huntington Beach State Park and Hobcaw Barony.

“I know all of it’s here and I tell guests about it,” Williams said, “but when you live somewhere, you don’t get a chance to play tourist. You go somewhere else to do it.”

Regina Melvin, who also works at the inn, and Shanikwa Fordham, front desk manager for Hampton Inn, nodded in agreement.

“We’re always working during the peak times for going to these places,” Melvin said.

Officials with the S.C. National Heritage Corridor recognize that and it’s part of the reason they arranged the “ambassadors tour.” It was the first of its kind in Georgetown County, but similar tours have been taking place in other parts of the state for about five years, said Whitney Ellis, group tour manager for the corridor.

The corridor spans 320 miles across 17 counties. Georgetown County is one of the most recent additions to the corridor, having been added in 2008.

The goal of the tours, which are free for participants, is to help people get to know their community better and thus be better able to promote the area.

“This way they get to come and experience it, and really fall in love with it,” Ellis said. “The main focus is for them to get to know it through the eyes of a tourist. Then, when a visitor comes in and asks what there is to do, instead of saying to go to Myrtle Beach, they can just ramble on forever about all there is to do in Georgetown County.”

If they can speak from experience about what the county has to offer, they’ll speak with more enthusiasm and be more convincing, Ellis added.

The ways in which participants will use their new information vary.

Margaret Anne Tarbox, a Pawleys Island resident, said she sometimes gets approached by visitors looking for information while she’s out walking. She was already familiar with the places on the tour itinerary, but hadn’t been to some, such as Hopsewee, in years.

“I have some new things I can tell them now,” she said.

As a volunteer for the Georgetown County Chamber of Commerce, Patricia McNeal will have ample opportunity to put to use what she learned. She moved to Georgetown County only a little over a year ago, so several of the places she visited were new to her, including the Kaminski House museum in Georgetown.

“That was a treat, because I’m always referring people to the Kaminski House,” she said.

But it’s Hopsewee that she found most intriguing. In the plantation house, “I felt like I was back in the 1700s,” she said.

Marilyn Altman of Georgetown, who attended the tour with her husband, LeNair, is a state regent for Daughters of the American Revolution. She travels a lot in her capacity with the group and talks about Georgetown County and its history.

“Even though I live here I picked up some extra pointers today,” she said.

It’s usually from brochures that Kim Berbary makes her recommendations to visitors, she said. She lives in Socastee and works for the Litchfield Beach and Golf Resort. Having seen where she has been sending people, she said she will be more comfortable and confident making recommendations.

Sue Sledz, executive director of Murrells Inlet 2020, made similar comments. A longtime resident of the inlet, she was familiar with most of the county’s offerings, but had never been to the Rice Museum in Georgetown.

“We like for visitors to stay in Murrells Inlet, but we refer them to whatever they’re looking for,” even if it’s on the other side of the county, Sledz said. “It’s good to know where we’re referring them to.”

Another ambassadors tour will be scheduled, Ellis said, but a date hasn’t been set.

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