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I feared my frugality might have backfired when I arrived in Florence, S.C., for the Southeastern Outdoor Press Association's annual conference from Oct. 3-6.

The conference headquarters was the Hilton Garden Inn. The hotel's reasonable conference rate was rich for me, so I economized by towing my Little Guy teardrop camper to a place called the Swamp Fox Campground.

It was only seven minutes from the Hilton, and three nights there was equal to one night at the Hilton. I hate to admit this, but the loquacious, opinionated manager gave me an AARP discount. I think you qualify for AARP membership at age 40 now, but I was appalled.

I accepted it anyway.

I checked out the Swamp Fox on the internet beforehand, and it looked like a charming little place. When I arrived, I considered turning around and going back about 15 miles to Lee State Park.

What the heck. I wouldn't be there except to sleep, so I needed to chill.

Florence is a most enjoyable place. It's a prosperous little city with a diverse economy and every kind of restaurant and tavern imaginable. The people are incredibly warm and welcoming, and they love to visit.

The first night of our conference involved a progressive dinner that entailed stops to seven different establishments in Florence's historic district. It occurred, regrettably, on a night when a gunman opened fire on police that were trying to serve a warrant. He killed one policeman -- Sgt. Terrance Carraway of the Florence Police Dept. -- and injured six other officers. A total of 11 were wounded, including the assailant's wife and son.

Violent crime is not prevalent in Florence, and the shooting shook the city to its core. Carraway, a 32-year veteran of the Florence Police Department, was admired and loved among the many city and county employees that visited the conference.

Those officials naturally asked if I were enjoying my visit.

"You're staying at the Hilton?" they asked.

"No, I've got a camper out at the Swamp Fox Campground."

I quite enjoyed their reactions. It was always kind of a blank, stiff look with a subtle narrowing of the eyes that strongly suggested that my experience might not reflect well on their fine community, but nobody ever said anything negative.

The Swamp Fox is mostly a residential campground. People of all ages live there in camping trailers and recreational vehicles. Some of the families even have small children. A few Hurricane Florence refugees are living there temporarily.

A few sites accommodate short-term campers, and they were always full. My spot was Site T, a grassy opening right behind a camper owned by a young woman who went to work early in the morning and came back late at night. It, like all the other sites, has electric, water and sewer hookups.

The campground residents flocked to see my Little Guy teardrop. It was a novelty, and they approved enthusiastically. The campground maintenance man heard metal popping on my hitch apparatus and voluntarily applied some wheel bearing grease to quiet it.

Overall, the campground is clean and tidy. The showers and lavatories are spotless. The laundry facilities are spotless. A tall fence ensures privacy.

Some of the residents, especially those that befriended me, struck me as rowdy, fun-loving folks, but they didn't display it in the campground. In fact, if Interstate 95 weren't directly over the fence, it would have been as quiet as the state park.

The campground host is a character, and visiting with him is worth the price of admission. He told me about a zoning meeting that occurred several years ago to discuss a potential development.

"The place was packed," he said. "People around here are pretty involved, and, of course, a bunch of politicians were in there shaking hands and slapping backs. They like to do that, you know, when they have everybody cornered."

It had been awhile since the host had seen a few of his neighbors, so he was doing some glad-handing and back-slapping of his own.

"Somebody asked me if I was a politician," he said. "I said, 'No, sir, I could never be a politician.'"

"Why?" asked the inquisitor.

"Because," he said, leaning in close after a dramatic pause, "I ... inhaled."

As I prepared to leave, a fellow who lives in the camper directly across the road from my site came to say goodbye. We had only talked briefly, but he wished me safe travels and gave me a brotherly hug as he shook my hand.

That's the spirit of Florence, S.C.

Sports on 10/11/2018

Print Headline: Florence campground had warm feel

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