Georgetown County tests water with new marina
The complex is officially set to open Monday. The 19.8 acre site includes six boat ramps, 200 car/trailer parking spaces, six boat launch ramps, courtesy docking, restroom facilities and a 4,000-square-foot outdoor event facility.
The complex is projected to host four to six freshwater and two or three saltwater tournaments each year.
Already its amenities have drawn the attention of the Inshore Fishing Association. The IFA’s Red Fish Tour will stop in Georgetown Sept. 25 and 26 and will be hosted at the new complex. The tournament, which once was held at East Bay Park, will be returning for the first time in four years, said Jerry Stakely, IFA tournament director.
Two local fishermen recommended the complex to the IFA, and Stakely said the group is happy to return to Georgetown.
“The fishing is great, the people are great and the food is great,” he said. “What else could you want? We were very welcome the last time we came.”
The tournaments usually draw about 50 to 75 people and can bring up to $500,000 in economic impact because the contestants usually come in a few days before to practice, which means a few days of accommodations at local hotels, eating at local restaurants, shopping and buying gas, Stakely said.
Georgetown, like counties across the state and elsewhere, has struggled during the economic downturn. The county has 4,819 people unemployed, or 15.3 percent of the county’s population, according to the S.C. Employment Securities Commission’s latest figures. The national unemployment rate is 9.7 percent.
The ArcelorMittal steel mill has been idle since July 10 because of a lack of orders, leaving more than 200 workers unemployed and causing a shortage in the city’s utility coffers last year. Now, both the city of Georgetown and the county are renewing their efforts to boost tourism and bring in revenue.
Its sandy beaches are one of Georgetown County’s largest tourism draws. but construction of the marine complex shows the county is investing in another natural resource: its waterways.
South Carolina’s natural resources draw about $30 billion annually and supply about 236,000 jobs, according to a 2009 study by the University of South Carolina Moore School of Business.
Georgetown County Council Chairman Johnny Morant said the new complex will help to stimulate the economy.
“It brings attention to Georgetown and it will bring in a lot of visitors,” Morant said. “A lot of times when visitors think of the coast, they think Myrtle Beach and Charleston, and Georgetown gets stuck somewhere in the middle. The marine complex shows the offerings of Georgetown County.”
Working on the marina has also allowed the city, county and community groups to build a stronger relationship as they work toward a common goal to bring money and jobs to the county, Morant said.
The idea for the marine complex was launched in 1998 after a Georgetown County Boat Ramp Steering Committee identified the need for more public boat access on county waterways, said Parks and Leisure Services Director Beth Goodale, with Georgetown County.
The complex is named after former state Gov. Carroll Campbell, who helped to start the Governor’s Cup Billfishing Series.
About $4 million for the complex came from grants from a variety of sources including the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, S.C. Parks, Recreation and Tourism, the city of Georgetown and the area’s legislative delegation.
“When you look at our message, a lot of what we sell is outdoor beauty and the recreation opportunities that go along with it,” said Marion Edmonds, spokesman for the state tourism department.
When visitors are surveyed about why they come to South Carolina, the top answer is the beach, but lakes and rivers also rank high, Edmonds said.
DNR spokesman Mike Willis lauded the county’s efforts.
“The state needs more boating access,” Willis said. “We would very much be in favor of expanding boat access, especially if there is public access.”
In 2009, the DNR issued 613 marine event permits, and about 90 percent of those were for fishing tournaments, Willis said. DNR must issue a permit to events with 20 or more boats.
There are more than 400,000 registered recreational watercraft in the state, which ranks third per capita and seventh overall nationwide in the number of registered boats, Willis said.
“Our fishing licenses have actually increased while some of our other licenses have decreased,” Willis said. “Fishing seems to buck that trend.”
In 2009 DNR sold 456,536 fishing licenses. So far this fiscal year, it has sold 536,791 fishing licenses, he said.
“I think it is because it is a good way for people to get out in the water and do something fun and different. it is a good way to bond,” Willis said.
Stakely, with IFA, has another theory.
“That’s because if you can’t work, you might as well fish.”
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