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Festivals and fish lifts in Santee Cooper Country

March 30, 2016   By Willard Strong in Santee Cooper Lakes

Springtime means more festivals (and fishing) around the Santee Cooper Lakes. (Photo by Jim Huff/Santee Cooper)

Ahh, spring. It's a great time to get out and enjoy the many festivals found in Santee Cooper Country.

You have your chance this weekend when the 25th annual St. Stephen Catfish Festival gets underway on April 1-3. Santee Cooper provides electrical service to St. Stephen, and the Catfish Festival is a Green Power event, meaning all the festival's power needs will be served by renewable energy from landfill gas generation, solar power and wind power.

Festival organizer Johnny Broome says this year's event features local entertainment, door prizes and "even helicopter rides along with our amusement rides." The festival is held at Alice Park, and it opens Friday at 4 p.m. and runs until 10:30 p.m. At 6:30 p.m. the Nu Attitude band takes the festival's main stage.

On Saturday, the festival opens at 9 a.m. with puppets, dancers, a Michael Jackson tribute at 4 p.m. and the catfish stew judging. Catfish stew will be sold beginning at 5:20 p.m. Beginning at 6 p.m., the Miss Catfish Festival Sweet Pea contest is on the main stage with The Customs Four and Friends playing their variety music at 6:30 p.m. On Sunday, the festival runs from 1 to 7 p.m., with gospel singing at 2 p.m.

There's another reason to visit St. Stephen this spring: If you've ever wanted to look into the viewing window at the St. Stephen fish lift as American shad, blueback herring, striped bass and other fish migrate up the Diversion Canal on their way to Lake Moultrie, now's your chance. You might also catch a catfish swimming through.

The fish lift at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' St. Stephen Powerhouse opened for visitors on March 16 and will run through April 15 for the annual spawning season. The Monday through Friday tours are on the hour from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

To arrange a free tour, call 843-825-3387. Also, ask about tours now available at the fish hatchery, located on the Diversion Canal opposite the powerhouse. Tours are conducted by the S.C. Department of Natural Resources.

Santee Cooper receives power from the three-unit, 84-megawatt hydroelectric station and controls it remotely from the Energy Control Center in Moncks Corner.