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Winyah Heritage Festival: Dogs take the plunge in celebration of outdoors

Dock diving dogs were a major hit at last year’s Winyah Bay Heritage Festival and their success helped launch a dock diving group in South Carolina.

That group, Palmetto Dock Dogs, will make its debut when the festival returns to East Bay Park this weekend. The hope this time around is to grow membership for the new organization.

“A lot of people don’t really know what a dock dog is,” said Erin Owen, president of Palmetto Dock Dogs. And with the group so new, there haven’t been many opportunities for people to be exposed to dock diving. But once they see it and try it, they’re usually hooked, she said.

That’s how she and her Chesapeake Bay retriever got involved.

“I saw how much he enjoyed it on top of how much I enjoyed it,” she said. So she started looking for nearby dock diving events and, without a club in South Carolina, she decided to join Dixie Dock Dogs in Georgia. That’s the group that hosted the dock diving event at last year’s Heritage Festival with an aim of developing enough interest in dock diving to start a Palmetto group.

When the effort was successful, Owen, as Dixie’s only South Carolina member, was recruited to get the new club started. So far, it has about 15 members.

For the uninitiated, dock diving is for dogs of all sizes, ages and breeds. They leap from a 40-foot dock, splashing down into a large pool after an item thrown by their human companion. They are rated on the distance of their jump.

The festival, dedicated to the outdoors, is Friday through Sunday and dock diving events will take place all three days. Practice sessions are scheduled to allow folks to let their dogs try dock diving before they enter the competition.

“There’s been a lot of buzz about it this year,” said Richard Camlin, a festival organizer. “There are a lot of people who are excited about it.”

Last year’s addition of dock diving to the festival introduced a lot of new people to the annual event, he said, so organizers are hoping for an even bigger crowd this year.

Owen said she has heard people from dock diving clubs in other states, including Tennessee, North Carolina and Georgia will attend the festival.

Watching the dock diving events is free with regular festival admission, but there is a fee to enter the competition.

The heritage festival typically takes place in January, but it was moved to March this year in hopes of finding warmer weather. That, along with some brand new events, should also increase attendance, according to organizers.

Among new events is an imaginary turkey hunt that begins at noon on Saturday. Through storytelling, John Tanner will take children and adults alike on an adventure, all while demonstrating different turkey calling techniques.

At 3 p.m. on Saturday, a program titled “Snakes in Our Own Backyard” will teach attendees how to identify snakes that are native to the area, learning which ones are a danger. Snakes can also be found in decoy activities. In addition to the duck decoys available for kids to paint, this year they can also choose to paint a 20-inch wooden snake.

Returning events include musket demonstrations, fly casting demonstrations, youth duck calling clinics, a birds of prey program and the S.C. Duck Calling Championship. Fishing guides will be on hand to offer tips and tricks, and the state Department of Natural Resources will again have its virtual fishing simulator and shooting trailer on hand.

All events will be at East Bay Park this year, but a shuttle will be available to take festival-goers to the Georgetown County Museum in Georgetown’s Historic District. The festival is a fundraiser for the museum.

Tickets to the festival are $5 for Friday and $10 each for Saturday and Sunday. Get passes for Saturday and Sunday for $15. Tickets are available at the gate or at the museum. Call 545-7020 for information

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