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Rain Dampens Saluda Coon Dog Day Festivities

The Lowcountry saw a record amount of rainfall in May, and the weather in Polk County, North Carolina has seen a similar pattern this summer. The annual celebration of coon dog hunting traditions in this small mountain town just off I-26 takes place around July 4th annually. A slight chance of rain on Saturday July 7 turned into a deluge that cleared all the visitors from the streets for several hours during the middle of the day. The morning parade and the evening square dance were spared from the damp weather, giving coon enthusiasts plenty of reasons to recall the 55th Coon Dog Day as one to remember.

The morning of Coon Dog Day starts with a pancake breakfast fundraiser at 7 a.m. for the local Masonic lodge. At 8 a.m. the Coon Dog Day 5K Race gets underway, leaving from downtown and running up and down the hilly neighborhoods surrounding Saluda. The runners reported high humidity that morning despite a forecast for cooler temperatures, an observation that proved accurate when the skies opened up just a few hours later.

The Coon Dog Day parade begins at 11 a.m. and is a friendly and fun event that welcomes plenty of families from nearby communities. They begin showing up hours early to reserve a spot along the parade route. First responders in their fire trucks and mountain rescue vehicles lead things off in the parade with sirens ablaze. Then a platoon of Hillbilly cars with people dressed in mountain man garb are next, plus antique tractors, coon dog rescue organizations, and even a few local politicians make the parade. Veteran parade watchers report less home-made floats with fun themes, and more golf carts and pick-up trucks converted for the coon dog display.

Food vendors, and artisans selling crafts line the streets waiting for the parade to finish, and for the crowd to set up chairs and listen to music, eating and drinking all day long. Even with cloudy skies, it really didn’t look like a lot of rain was on the way, but a local resident told me that morning to take my umbrella that by her observations it was definitely going to rain. Then about noon a slow and steady drizzle turned into a pouring rain that even an umbrella could not defense.

Despite the crowd departing for cover, an Elvis impersonator giving a 2 p.m. concert proved that the show must go on. He left the covered stage and danced into the now deserted street holding an umbrella, gyrating and singing Elvis classics to those huddled under the awnings of the historic hardware store. His bell-bottom pants soaked up the rain splatter in moments but he delivered a command performance as the warm-up act for the AKC coon hound treeing contest at 2:30, a rain or shine event. The rain did not let up until 5 p.m. and the deluge cooled the mountain air considerably, making this the wettest and coolest Coon Dog Day in a decade.

Polk County adjoins South Carolina, but the Saluda grade is well known for its steep ascent into the North Carolina mountains. That same topography came into play on May 19 when a rainfall of 10-inches caused flooding that washed out some local roads, and even caused I-26 to be closed. It is common for the blue ridge mountains to experience wet conditions at higher elevations, but this flood was uncommon, and the aftermath left the landscape somewhat altered.

Since that flooding event, Polk County has continued to see steady rainfall this summer since that ground remains saturated, and the Coon Dog Day deluge seems to verify that. When it rains in Saluda right now, locals are wary of roads already repaired in May, and there is some uncertainty about what the weather will bring next. Just one day before Coon Dog Day, a strong lightening storm hit the same area, knocking out power and electronics for some residents.

The traditions of Saluda’s Coon Dog Day have already stood the test of time, raising awareness about the outdoors lifestyle, and providing a safe place for folks to gather. The street vendors may have seen a decrease in revenue this year due to the rain, but the families and friends that retreated to the porches of Saluda to ride out the storm, will no doubt be strengthened by their time spent together in the mountains.

Jeff Dennis is a Lowcountry native. Read his blog at LowcountryOutdoors.com

Jeff Dennis, Contributor (335 Posts)

Jeff Dennis is a Lowcountry native. Read his blog at www.LowcountryOutdoors.com