Rhonda Hardee is so excited about Conway’s upcoming Christmas Regatta that she’s already decorated her boat.
She actually cancelled the event at one point in response to the ongoing effects of Hurricane Florence’s flooding, but then she decided that Conway just needs to do something fun.
The owner of Sheer Artistry Salon in Conway is also a member of the Long Bay Power Squadron, the event’s sponsor.
Boats of all sizes are welcome to participate, anything from kayaks on up, but Hardee admits that a kayaker might be awfully tired by the time the regatta concludes.
Plans are for it to start at the Billy Witherspoon Landing at Savannah Bluff, cruise along the Conway Riverwalk, turn around at the railroad trestle and head back to the marina where there will be slips and docks keeping the boaters from having to return to the landing in the dark.
The regatta is scheduled for Dec. 8 from 5 p.m.-8:30 p.m., a time that Hardee thinks it won’t compete with the Little River or Murrells Inlet parades.
Hardee already has 10 to 12 boats registered for the event and hopes to increase that number to about 20 by the time the parade sails off.
She says she’d like to see more, but understands that this is the first year and many people are still suffering from the recent flooding.
“I’d love to see a minimum of 20 and we can continue growing,” she said.
The avid boater says she is always trying to come up with good ideas to get people involved.
“Conway is where I live. It’s where my business is. I love it…This is one way to bring business to Conway,” she said.
There is a $25 registration fee for people who register in advance at https://goo.gl/e46VoH. That money will go to the Long Bay Power Squadron that regularly offers safety checks to boaters to make sure they have all of the equipment required by the S.C. Department of Natural Resources. They can enter for free when the parade is lining up at the landing.
There is no charge to watch the regatta, but Hardee said, viewers will be able to make donations to the SOS Oak Tree Farm, an affordable housing community, planned for Conway, designed for people with autism and intellectual disabilities.
The event has already been approved by the SCDNR, and Hardee says experienced boaters have traveled this stretch of the river and found no obstacles.
Conway City Council gave its full approval for the regatta at its meeting Monday.
“What a great idea,” exclaimed Councilman Tom Anderson, who hopes Christmas revelers will come to the Christmas parade at 10 a.m. that morning and stick around to shop and eat before the boat parade.
He did have one concern.
He wondered if Conway’s riverwalk, greatly damaged by the flood, would be safe for viewers.
The riverwalk and riverfront park were closed periodically due to damage caused by the flood, but both are open now.
City administrator Adam Emrick said there were so many people using the park while it was closed that they figured they needed to concentrate on getting it open again.
Emrick said there is still some unwanted sand and silt at the park, but they think rain will help resolve that.
City Parks, Recreation & Tourism director Addison Jarrell said city staff has hammered in all of the protruding nails and ground down all of the warped boards. Monday night the city okayed spending about $41,000 on some new boards.
One of the first facilities to reopen was the Marina Store that is leased to Matthew Varnadore, who said water got into the marina shop, soaked the floor beyond repair and required new baseboards and fresh paint on the walls.
About one week after he reopened, he said, “Business is – I guess it’s no different than everybody else downtown. We’re not seeing a lot of business.”
But, he added, his business is seasonal so what he’s seeing now is probably typical for this time of year.
“We’ve started getting a lot of folks coming back. The river’s open; the ramp’s open. We’ve got a lot of people trying to get back to normal,” Varnadore said.
He’s hoping for a successful holiday season that he plans to kick off Saturday with a knife sale featuring Chad Weatherford.
Both sides of Sherwood Park are still closed as is the Waccamaw River Park, but Emrick hopes to change that soon.
The only facility that won’t survive the flood is the Fireman’s Clubhouse. Emrick said insurance adjusters were there earlier in the week, and when they know how much they can expect in insurance funding, they’ll demolish the building that was once a popular rental facility.
There are still questions about the Riverfront Tennis Center where, Emrick says, the tennis building, a storage shed and lighting all took heavy beatings.
The clay courts are contaminated, and Emrick doesn’t think that rain can help them. He’d like to move the tennis center to a higher and drier location so the chance of having the courts destroyed again will be lessened. So far, city officials haven’t found a location that they like for a new tennis center.
He says the courts at Collins Park have been getting lots of use.