Get Your Passport to Adventure!

Looking for things to do in Sumter just got a lot easier! The Sumter Convention & VisitorsTrack-Your-Adventure Bureau has worked in collaboration with 22 area attractions to produce a new initiative, “Track Your Adventure,” a campaign that has already begun attracting hundreds of local residents to find fun and excitement in our hometown.

Planned as a marketing strategy to attract visitors from across the southeastern US, “Track Your Adventure” features both such well-known destinations as Swan Lake Iris Gardens, and those somewhat off the beaten path, like the LeNoir Store and Willard Farms, among many others. Participants are issued a “passport” to be stamped as they visit each location. The first 1,000 people to return a completed passport to the Swan Lake Visitors Center will receive a prize. Visitors are also Passport-Frontencouraged to post photos of their outings to our social media pages. More information can be found online at TrackYourAdventure.com.

Of course, we can’t make it quite that easy. Not only are some of the locations not particularly well-known (although we are hoping to change that!), not all of them are open daily or year-round. So, if you choose to take on the adventure, prepare for a challenge.

Twenty-two places to visit…one place to have your completed passport redeemed. Over the coming weeks, we will feature information about many of Sumter’s best kept secrets. Until then…get ready to track your adventure!

by Colette Daniels

 

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The Iris Festival: Experiencing the beauty of Sumter, South Carolina

“If nothing ever changed, there’d be no butterflies.” My friend gave me the magnet when my eldest daughter, Lauren, left for college. She was the first to go, but with three more kids at home, I had my hands full and I managed pretty well. My husband, on the other hand, was a bit of a wreck. Lauren is a daddy’s girl, and it had been hard for him to see her go. Every Memorial Day Weekend it was a tradition for the two of them to go camping. But last Memorial Day Weekend, our daughter didn’t come home. She had a new boyfriend and wanted us to come to her.

Festival of beauty
After a unanimous family vote, we agreed. Lauren had just finished up her freshman year at the University of South Carolina at Sumter, and I jumped at every chance I got to visit this endearing Southern city. Yes, I was excited about seeing my daughter, but I was also Sumter-Iris-Festival-2015-FINAL-1looking forward to checking out Sumter’s annual Iris Festival  held at Swan Lake Iris Gardens. I had read about this three-day festival in Southern Living, and also heard about it from my mother. Celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2015, the Iris Festival is South Carolina’s oldest continuous festival, and it was actually where my parents first met when they were crowned Iris King and Queen when they were young.

The Iris Festival Pageant was just one of the festival’s highlights. Somehow my nine-year-old got his hands on the schedule of events, and he made sure I knew that he and his six-year-old twin sisters couldn’t miss Just Kidding Around, Children’s Art in the Park, the Bike Rodeo and the annual Shrine Day Parade. I made a mental note of his “musts.”

Tasty bites
When we arrived, Lauren took us to her favorite restaurant downtown and we had the kind of BBQ that could turn a vegetarian into a meat eater. That meal was just the start of a weekend full of fantastic food, and we especially loved the highly anticipated Taste of the Gardens featuring mouthwatering food from the region’s most popular dining establishments and celebrated chefs.

While the food was definitely something to write home about, it was hard to top the flowers. Swan Lake Iris Gardens’ crown jewel is the Japanese iris. Peak blooming season for this extraordinary flower (it has the largest bloom of any iris) is late May, and thousands of people come for the flower show’s elaborate sculpted shrubs and the opportunity to buy iris plants from the master gardeners. My green thumb was inspired by the exotic blossoms, and my younger kids were fascinated by the floral art project displays from the local elementary schools.

Classic cars
From flowers to Ford Mustangs—kudos to the festival planners for creating an event that appealed to so many different interests. My husband, who began the trip pretty bummed about not being on his yearly camping trip, perked up when he heard about the festival’s Head Turnerz Classic Car Show and ended up spending hours socializing with other car buffs over the hood of a 1964 Corvette. He wanted to buy one and take me for a ride, but I suggested a boat ride on Swan Lake instead. More than 500,000 people visit Swan Lake each year, but the Iris Festival is the only time when groups are allowed out on the lake—providing an opportune time to see the lake’s eight different species of swans on their turf.

Golf carts galore
With the boat ride and every other effortlessly fun activity behind us, all that was left to do was meet our daughter’s new boyfriend. Begrudgingly, he agreed to leave the festival’s East Coast Scooters Golf Cart Show and meet the kids and me in front of a giant catfish sculpture. Our meeting point was not chosen at random—it seemed our daughter’s new boyfriend, James, a student at Central Carolina Technical College, was quite an accomplished artist, and his metal masterpiece was part of the festival’s We Weld America display and auction.

Important introduction
As my husband shook James’ hand, I was pleasantly surprised to see him break into a slight smile. Lauren noticed too, and I felt a weight lift off my chest. We had been having so much fun at the festival I didn’t even realize I was anxious about this moment. Our little girl was grown up. While she had spent the past couple days joking around with her younger siblings and enjoying the kind of activities that make everyone feel like kids again, here she was, a young woman—making new friends and living her own life in Sumter.

A year later and our daughter is still seeing James. My husband has accepted the fact that his camping trips with Lauren may be fewer and farther between. I have my eye on our backyard where a catfish sculpture stands tall in a bed of flowers and any day now, my Japanese iris plants should bloom. Like usual, my younger kids are active, but occasionally they slow down enough to remind me that we can’t miss this year’s Iris Festival. I’ve promised to take them, but in return, I made them promise they won’t grow up too fast. But then I have to remind myself that without change there’d be no butterflies.

Discover uncommon beauty in Sumter.

This post was contributed by a guest blogger.

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Sumter Entertainment: Effortless Family Fun in Central South Carolina!

“10 cents?” asked my eleven-year-old in utter disbelief. It’s always hard explaining to our kids how much things used to cost back in the “good old days,” but for some reason, they had an especially difficult time digesting the fact that a movie ticket in 1936 was only a dime.

A movie theater during the Great Depression, the Sumter Opera House was the reason weopera house clock tower 2015 went to central South Carolina. Built in the late 1800’s, the building was renovated in 1936 to serve as a movie theater. It was lovingly restored again in the 1980’s back to its original purpose as a venue for performing arts. For years we’d heard that one of South Carolina’s best-kept secrets is this historic building, which still functions as a venue for the performing arts. So last summer when my husband and I were looking for a convenient weekend getaway that could deliver in the quality entertainment department as well as in the kid-friendly destination department, we landed on Sumter.

The skinny on Sumter

When we first told our kids, ages 7, 11 and 14, that we would be taking a trip to a town known for its Opera House, they became curious. “What’s an opera house?” “Do people live there?” and “Do we dress up for it?” were just a few of the questions we fielded.

Of course, our iPhone-wielding eldest daughter did some digging, but she got sidetracked from her Opera House research as soon as she discovered Sumter was also home to Swan Lake Iris Gardens—the only public park in the U.S. that is home to eight different swan Swan Lake for Blog 0415species. For her 14th birthday she got a new camera, and she was eager to capture unique flora and fauna for her portfolio. She read about the park’s exotic flower species and its butterfly garden, but she was most excited about its one-of-a-kind Chocolate Garden. It took her ten minutes to explain to her younger brother that while the plants would be edible, the “Banana Split” wouldn’t taste like his favorite dessert, but that the plants looked or smelled like different varieties of chocolate. We were pleasantly surprised to see so much enthusiasm from our often-indifferent teenager.

Music and food

We rolled into Sumter on a Friday evening, and the weather could not have been better–T-shirt temperatures with a cool, refreshing breeze. We timed our arrival so we could catch an outdoor concert—courtesy of Sumter’s Fourth Fridays on Main summer series. Some friendly locals let us borrow their spare lawn chairs, and to return the favor, we bought them a round of drinks. With mouths full of some of South Carolina’s finest BBQ, the kids were enthralled watching the band’s lead guitarist play up a storm on his Gibson.

“What’s for breakfast?” our son asked the next morning. An hour later we were forks deep into buttery shrimp and grits and passing around a plate of beignets—powdered sugar-covered squares of fried dough. After the last crumb was claimed, we set out to explore Sumter and burn off some energy. As we walked past Palmetto Park and the University of Black SwanSouth Carolina Sumter, my husband grabbed my hand. The kids cringed, but by the time we reached Swan Lake Iris Gardens, they were more concerned with counting water fowl than anything else.

Picture perfect

Beautiful doesn’t even begin to describe Swan Lake. In no time at all, our daughter was putting in her second memory card. It’s ironic to think that this 120-acre park started out as a swamp. But now, as we took in the vibrant sights, sounds and scents, we found the now pristine lake to be peaceful, lovely and charming. Our lazy Saturday morning in the park was perfect, but it didn’t end until we promised the kids we would return for an event or two.

We’d heard about the annual Memorial Day Weekend Iris Festival—the state’s oldest continuous festival and widely considered one of the top events in the Southeast. Meanwhile, our seven-year-old was keen on coming back in December when he could see his favorite cartoon characters and a floating Christmas tree during the park’s month-long Fantasy of Lights.

“Speaking of floating things,” said my husband, “I heard a rumor that Sumter is THE place to get ice cream floats.” That rumor turned out to be very true. After doing some souvenir shopping downtown, we indulged at the hometown drug store’s popular soda fountain. Our day could have ended perfectly right then and there—over a frosted glass of root beer and vanilla ice cream, but it didn’t. No, we still had a concert to catch at the reason weOpera House Stage came to Sumter in the first place, the Opera House.

An historic perspective

“This is the coolest opera house ever,” remarked our son as he craned his neck to look up at the structure’s 100-ft. tall clock tower. My husband, an accountant who hopes he’ll be an architect in his next life, admired the original stone façade. The interior of the building was just as impressive, and you could tell that the musicians on stage felt honored to play there. As the last notes of the final song played out, I surveyed my family’s reactions: 4 for 4. Or, if you counted the smile on my face too, 5 for 5.

The real tell-tale sign that this weekend getaway in Sumter was a success was the fact that the next morning, despite subconsciously knowing we had to return home, we all woke up wearing the same looks of contentment. Sumter may no longer be home to 10-cent entertainment, but a visit to this special town is worth every dime!

Easily entertain your family in Sumter, South Carolina!

This entry was kindly provided by a guest blogger.

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#Sumter join us at 11 AM today to honor

#Sumter join us at 11 AM today to honor #VeteransDay on the courthouse lawn on Main Street. http://ow.ly/i/7xD9l http://ow.ly/E6WKp

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@discoverSC Check out this wonderful video story of our favorite gardens #SwanLakeIrisGardens #SumterSC http://ow.ly/C9oLI

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Awesome view #Sumter! #SwanLakeIrisGarde

Awesome view #Sumter! #SwanLakeIrisGardens #discoverSC #sctweets #arialphotography #quadcopter http://ow.ly/i/63lCk http://ow.ly/yxeSO

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Christmas in June? The 2014 #PoinsettiaF

Christmas in June? The 2014 #PoinsettiaFestival is just around the corner. In hopes to get a full schedule of #Christmas holiday events to share with the #Sumter community, we need your help! Send us your event ASAP @ http://ow.ly/yr2cs http://ow.ly/i/61soW

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