By Gregg Bragg, The Island Connection Sr. Staff Writer
Charleston played host to the annual Southeastern Wildlife Exposition for the 36th time. The extravaganza took place over three days in mid-February.
SEWE’s mission is to contribute to the local economy while promoting outdoor activities, wildlife and nature conservation. This year’s chapter boasted 58 corporate sponsors, and 258 exhibits disbursed across 5 different venues. It filled Lowcountry restaurants and hotels with an estimated 40,000 visitors. Stately indoor scenes were offset by more frenetic outdoor locations like Brittlebank Park for a crowd favorite, DockDogs.
Overcast skies and chill, windy weather didn’t quash the K-9’s gusto for a second. Their body language screamed “I love to jump! Throw it, throw it, throw it already.” Ben [name changed to protect anonymity], a yellow Labrador, mercilessly teased onlookers with his enthusiasm.
Makeshift “docks” with a “pool” at the end were setup to showcase retrieval skills. The idea was for Ben to wait at the beginning of the runway while his human walked to the end, threw the decoy, and gave the command. Ben wasn’t “staying” for any of that. Every time his human turned down the dock, Ben would go low-profile and scoot along behind. The crowd kept outing him, but undaunted by wagging fingers, Ben was right at his human’s side at the end of the dock grinning a “What?” expression. The decoy was thrown while Ben was escorted back to the start, and then sent on his way 18 feet into the pool to raucous approval.
The range of exhibits at Brittlebank included pony and even camel rides along with a petting zoo of predominantly baby goats. The overarching theme, however, centered on ducks. Everything you need to call, lure, decoy, shoot, retrieve, and process a duck was on display, with most items handcrafted to perfection. Marion Square, the second of two “outdoor” sites, had a slightly different focus.
The field of displays at Marion Square took a more conservative angle on nature. Long the champion of habitat preservation, the South Carolina Environmental Law Project booth saw a steady stream of visitors, and the Charleston Waterkeepers regaled attendees with a long list of accomplishments including:
- Defeat of the home rule bill, protecting wildlife and waterways from plastic pollution in the process
- Removing 14 tons of marine debris from SC waterways
- Building 2 oyster reefs using 800 bags of shells with the help of 682 volunteers
- Collecting 385 water samples to insure safe swimming resulting in 26 alerts and 2 cleanup efforts 5. Removing 43,869 gallons of marine sewage from SC waterway.
And did you know there are 350 miles of leisure trails in SC?
The Palmetto Trail will be 500 miles long, and stretch from Awendaw through the Blue Ridge Mountains, when complete. Recent funding will enable the Palmetto Conservation group to finish the existing patchwork of trails, and include a route through and around Columbia. The trail is free and open to hiking, mountain biking, cycling, camping and backpacking, etc.
It meanders through five state parks, two national forests, and two Revolutionary battlefields.
The centerpiece of SEWE’s three indoor venues, and home to inspiring works of nature art was presented at the Charleston Place Hotel. Elbowroom was hard to find as visitors snaked past each other looking for a favorite among thousands of pieces. Featured artist Kathryn Mapes Turner of Wyoming created the show’s iconic portrait, which “sold for $32,000,” said one volunteer.
“Apache Stealth,” a puma carved from pink Portuguese marble, was conjured by sculptor Jeff Birchill of North Augusta, SC. Take one look into the searching eyes or marveling at the big cat’s tensed muscles, carved in stone, and it’s easy to understand why the Society of Animal Artists recognize him as one the 500 best animal artists on the planet.
The Southeastern Wildlife Exposition remains a clearinghouse for all things “nature.” Information and thumbnails on this year’s artists/vendors are available by visiting SEWE.com/. The site is also a repository of activist groups that participated. You can follow links to volunteer for next year’s event or any of the participating groups.