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Celebrating the great outdoors

Wateree Outdoor Life Festival coming to Camden on March 8

Posted: January 28, 2014 10:31 a.m.
Updated: January 29, 2014 5:00 a.m.

John Clarke has spent a good portion of the past several months knocking on doors in and around Kershaw County. But he is not seeking votes nor is he running for public office.
Instead, the Camden resident is selling advertising space and seeking donations for the inaugural Wateree Outdoor Life Festival (WOLF) to be held on the campus of the Fine Arts Center of Kershaw County at 810 Lyttleton St. in Camden on Saturday, March 8. The event, to run from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. that day, will be open to the public.
The one-day event coincides with the South Carolina Association of Taxidermists’ 34th annual Show and Competition to be held in Camden on March 7 and 8.
With both the show and festival rapidly approaching, Clarke, the chairman of the WOLF organizing committee, has found himself a busy man; yet, his nerves have not gotten the best of him as he tries to pull off this ambitious weekend doubleheader.
“I’m sleeping good,” Clarke said with a laugh when asked about the busy plate he has in front of him. “It’s starting to come together. I was working hard on it this summer and had to take a little break, but I’m geared up again.”
The idea to have an outdoor festival combined with the taxidermists’ weekend was something which Clarke came up with when he decided to see if Camden would be able to host the former event which was held in Columbia over the past several years. When the costs to hold the convention in the capital city started escalating, Clarke went to work in seeing what facilities might be available in Kershaw County.
“The price of the facility (used for the taxidermists’ show and competition) kept going up every year so, I went to see about bringing it to Camden,” Clarke said. “I felt it would be good, economically, for Camden. We probably bring in $25,000 into Columbia for a weekend and we felt Camden would appreciate that money.”
With members of the taxidermists association needing lodging, food, entertainment and gas for their vehicles, Clarke said Kershaw County will receive a nice weekend windfall from the two events. “The good thing is,” Clark said of the taxidermy show guests, “they are going to be staying in local hotels and eating here and buying gasoline here. We want them to like it and hope they’ll want to do it again.”
Clarke met with Margaret Bishop at the Fine Arts Center of Kershaw County and a package deal for the weekend was put together by the facility which has classrooms, work spaces, an auditorium and ample outdoor space needed to pull off a convention and a celebration of the outdoors.
As for the taxidermy association, which regularly has some 100 attendees for the yearly show and competition, Clarke said when the board of the organization visited Camden and listened to how having the event here could benefit the group, the membership was sold on staging the 2014 event in Camden.
The taxidermists’ show is a separate entity, although non-members can join the organization for the weekend for $75. The outdoor life festival, which will have a nominal admission fee which is still being determined, will be an event for the entire family.
 “To help offset the cost for the taxidermy part of it, we decided to come up with the Wateree Outdoor Life Festival,” Clarke said. Rather than pigeonhole the event by calling it a wildlife festival, Clark and his nine-person committee decide that the words “outdoor life” would allow the event to expand in future years while catering to a wider variety of participants.
“It gives us room to expand down the road and not just lock us in on wildlife in particular but all the outdoor sports,” Clarke said. “It’s a wildlife-themed event, but we can branch out. It’s really taken off from there.”
The WOLF day will include a Labrador Retriever demonstration by Camden’s Matt Rush, owner of Rush Creek Retrievers. There will also be a Boykin Spaniel demonstration to be headed up Bill Crites of the Boykin Spaniel Society.
Mitchell Brantley, of the South Carolina Falconry Association, will conduct a Red-Tail Hawk Demonstration while Tom Ryan will direct a fly fishing demonstration during the day.
In addition, the “Take One Make One” mobile education trailer from the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources will be on the grounds with a video simulator, while Alec Blalock will provide a presentation on logging practices in South Carolina from the last 1800s through the early 1900s.
Dick Sanders, from Rembert, replicated his ancestors’ section boat which they used on the Wateree River and its creeks and he have his vessel on display. A seminar on Taxidermy 101 will be presented by the South Carolina Association of Taxidermists while Scott Sanders of Primos Game Calls will be on hand to demonstrate turkey calling and techniques.
Clarke said the day will include food concessions, live music, exhibitors, artists and craftsmen including those making both duck and turkey calls. There will also be seminars held throughout the day. In talking with Mary Jones, chairman of the board of the FAC and president of S.C. Arts Alliance, Clarke learned that the S.C. Arts Alliance is having a program in Camden on Friday, March 7. He hopes that some of the artisans and craftsmen from that organization might want to stay in town for an extra day and be part of the outdoor life festival.
“It’s going to have something for the kids and it is going to have something for the adults,” Clarke said of the WOLF. “We’re probably going to have door prizes, raffle and auction items. We’re going to try and give away some hunts. Personally, I’ll give away a guided turkey hunt. We’re going to have a lot of stuff going on.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun,” Clarke said of the family friendly event at which alcohol and pets are prohibited. “Everybody I’ve talked to thinks it’s a great idea for Camden. We’re trying to pull it all off. I’m getting new exhibitors every day.”
Clarke has his fingers crossed that once the festival gains a foothold on the local calendar of events, it can expand in the future. He said he can envision having a 3-D archery tournament in conjunction with the event while also staging a sporting clays tournament at Hermitage Farm and possibly, a fishing tournament as part of the weekend. “It could really grow into something big and exciting,” he said.
For the time being, John Clarke is focused on making the first Wateree Outdoor Life Festival a success and is still canvassing the area in search of those sponsors and donors who would like to play a vital role in this year’s event.
“I think it’s going to be exciting for Camden,” Clarke said with a smile. “Hopefully, the people will come out and attend and it will go off well so that we can do it every year.”

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