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Old 11-25-2012, 12:46 AM   #1
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Charleston, SC Holiday Festival of Lights Rally Report

I hope that all of our U.S. FROGs enjoyed a Happy Thanksgiving. (Canadian Thanksgiving was in early October.) Cindy and I enjoyed the day with our oldest daughter and her family in Georgia before leaving for Charleston, SC and the FROG Holiday Festival of Lights rally.

Under a brilliant blue sly we travelled to James Island County Park, one of the crown jewels of Charleston County Parks system and the site of the rally. Registration was like a homecoming as Cindy and I met several of the staff members and a couple of the volunteer hosts with whom we’ve worked while volunteering at the Festival in past years. We also met three of the couples who came in a day early, a couple of whom were also at the FROG International Rally.

The rest of the group will arrive tomorrow in time for a welcome and orientation bar-b-q dinner. On Monday, following a continental breakfast, we’ll tour historic downtown Charleston; enjoy a picnic lunch; cruise Charleston Harbor; and visit Fort Sumter, where the Civil War began.

That evening will be free for visiting the Holiday Festival of Lights, a three-mile, three-million light display located right here in the park.

On Tuesday we’ll gather for a pancake breakfast. The rest of the day is unscheduled to allow participants to explore the mansions, museums, plantations, and other historical sites in and around Charleston. “Charles Towne” was founded in 1620, just thirteen years after Jamestown and the same year the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, so history abounds throughout the area.

On Wednesday we’ll visit Magnolia Plantation and Gardens, which Charles Kuralt once called “one of America’s greatest treasures.” We’ll top off the day with dinner at world-famous Hyman’s Seafood House.

This event promises to be an exciting adventure and great fun. Check back for more details and photos.

More to come.
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Old 11-26-2012, 10:06 PM   #2
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So the FROG Holiday Festival of Lights Rally is officially underway in Charleston!

Sunday was filled with members rolling into the park. We met everyone at the driveway and had the opportunity to greet friends both old and new. Campground registration went quickly and smoothly. Since we had pre-assigned sites and provided them to the campground office, so there was no delay in processing. All are full hookup sites, and most are secluded by trees and shrubbery on both sides for excellent privacy.

Having registered and gotten their campground maps, everyone stopped by the FROG registration table for another greeting. There they received FROG bags, name tags, final agendas, information on the Charleston area, and more before going to their sites to set up and settle in.

The first official event of the rally was dinner. We gathered in the park’s Conference Center for a meal of melt-in-your-mouth brisket, chicken, baked beans, coleslaw, and corn muffins. Of course, you can’t be in the South without being offered sweet tea and banana pudding, so those were included, along with other drink choices.

Following dinner and a few housekeeping announcements, we used the park’s shuttle to tour the Christmas lights for the first time. Most of our members were awestruck by the amazing display. Besides the vast variety, creativity, and color on display, the size of some of the figures is overwhelming. The lighted replica of St. Philip’s Episcopal Church is over 40 feet tall. The Ravenel Bridge is 240 feet long. Over 200 displays encompassing over 600 individual pieces delight the senses. Themes ranging from religious to nursery rhymes, from “traditional” Christmas to pure whimsy are around every bend in the road. For three miles and three million lights, the FROGs couldn’t get enough.

This morning we gathered at Edisto Hall, just a short distance down the main park road from the campground, for breakfast. Muffins, pastries, and bagels, cereal and fresh fruit, coffee and orange juice filled the gap and got us ready for a day of touring. Soon the tour buses arrived, and the group split in half to begin their adventure. (Put everyone on the same bus? Good luck with that on streets laid hundreds of years ago to accommodate horses and buggies!)

Everyone enjoyed seeing and learning about the traditional Charleston architecture, ncluding “single houses” and “welcoming arms” porches. There’s a home where the owners invited their neighbors over to enjoy dinner on the balcony and watch the shelling of Fort Sumter over 150 years ago. The Battery, site of the cannons that once defended the city walls, was of special interest, as was Rainbow Row with its unique style and architecture.

Charleston is known as “The Holy City” for the tremendous number of churches, with their steeples dominating the skyline of the peninsula. The downtown churchyards are the resting places of signers of the Declaration of Independence as well as leaders of the secession that ultimately led to the Civil War. Everywhere you go, history pours out from doors and windows or rattles up from the cobblestone streets.

Having completed the downtown tour, we gathered on benches under a pavilion near the harbor for box lunches of ham, roast beef and turkey. Following the respite, it was time to board the boat for a tour of the harbor and Fort Sumter. As we cruised toward the island fort targeted by the first shots of the Civil War, dolphins swam alongside and entertained us. Upon arrival at Fort Sumter, we enjoyed a presentation by a Park Ranger that provided historical background of the coastal fortifications as well of the events of the bombardment, the subsequent 18-month siege of the city by Federal troops, and the eventual recapture of the fort and the fall of the city of Charleston. Then there was time to tour some of the ramparts, the cannons, and the museum before re-boarding the boat for a cruise back by the marina, the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown, and other sites en route back to the pier.

Back in the park in the late afternoon, there was time for visiting and getting better acquainted. Drinks and snacks appeared at several sites. Dogs went out for a walk. This evening, several small groups got together and went out to dinner in various places around town. Some folks drove through the lights again, or visited the park office across the street to be a kid again. There’s a train to ride, as well as a carousel. More spectacular lights fill the area. There’s a gift shop, and a place to roast marshmallows. For the young and the young at heart, there’s a chance to visit Santa and try to cement a spot on his “nice” list.

And then, there’s tomorrow to prepare for. We’ll meet for a pancake and sausage breakfast prepared by the campground hosts, then have a day to explore the area on our own. I can’t wait to hear about everyone’s adventures.

More to come.
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Old 11-26-2012, 10:39 PM   #3
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Wonderful write up. Sounds like everyone is enjoying the sights. We've stayed at the same campground and really enjoyed it and the whole Charleston area.
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Old 11-28-2012, 08:48 AM   #4
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We got some rain on Tuesday. FROGs are amphibians, though, so we do as well in water as on dry land. So off we went in various directions.

On a cool and overcast Tuesday morning, we gathered at Edisto Hall for a breakfast of pancakes, sausage, orange juice and coffee. Since we didn’t have a tour scheduled, a few elected to peek out their windows and pull up the covers and get a later start. Much of the conversation centered on plans for today. Where are you going? What are you doing? Did you see the information on this or that?

Following breakfast, several members took advantage of the park’s shuttle service to the Visitors’ Center downtown. Some went back to the peninsula, the historic downtown area, to visit The Market. In addition to the shopping in the jewelry, clothing, art, and souvenir stalls in the old farmers’ market, it’s always an interesting opportunity to visit with the ladies weaving the famous Charleston Sweetgrass Baskets. This is a craft that is generally passed down from mother to daughter or grandmother to granddaughter. Sadly, many of the ladies will tell you that the art is dying, as their offspring have little interest in gathering and cutting the grasses that go into the making of the baskets and spending the time that it takes to create them. These are truly works of art that often last for generations.

Some of our other members were off to sites around the area. One couple went to see the Charleston Tea Plantation, the only tea plantation in the United States. Unfortunately, this is not the season for harvesting, and therefore not for production, so the activity was limited. Others visited the Charleston Museum, and still others the Charleston Aquarium, a world-class institution downtown by the Harbor, next to where we boarded for the cruise to Fort Sumter.

During the morning I had the good fortune to find Rich, a park employee who for over twenty years has been responsible for the creation of all of the lighted displays throughout the park. We’ve become acquainted through Cindy’s and my volunteer time here at the festival in the past. After catching up a little, we arranged for members to visit the shop where the displays come to life, so we’ll be going there in small groups on Wednesday morning before our scheduled tour.

Tuesday evening some of us gathered for a campfire under what were supposed to be – but were not – clearing skies. In a light rain, we gathered under our awning for a pleasant evening of visiting, venturing out to add a log or two to the fire, to roast marshmallows, and to make s’mores. Some of the group walked across the street to the Park Center to enjoys the lights, ride the train and carousel, visit the gift shop, and enjoy the Christmas music. It was a great evening all around, and everything went well. Even the awning worked perfectly, at one point adjusting itself to dump excess water. (Memo to Cindy: Don’t sit there next time.)

Today, as mentioned, we’ll visit the shop to see how the displays are created. Early this afternoon we’re off to Magnolia Plantation and Gardens, then back downtown to Hyman’s Seafood for a farewell dinner that comes all too soon. Tomorrow there’s a continental breakfast at the Activity Center right here in the campground, then hugs and farewells.

More to come.
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Old 11-29-2012, 09:14 PM   #5
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Wow, what a great time we had at the Festival of Lights. This was our first time on a FROG trip and we were so impressed and happy with everything that we will be making more trips with the FROGS. Bob and Cindy are amazing at Hosting these events. Forest River should be proud of these two and I hope they will continue as Hosts for a long time to come. If anyone has thought about going on a trip, quit thinking and go. You will not be dissapointed. Thank you again Bob and Cindy and I hope everyone has safe travels.
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Old 11-30-2012, 08:53 AM   #6
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Another enjoyable FROG rally has come to a successful conclusion, and members have headed off to their next adventures with new friendships, great memories, and exciting plans.

Wednesday dawned cool and overcast, with the remnants of the previous day’s rain hanging in the sky. We had no breakfast scheduled, so some of the members elected to sleep in a little later than on past mornings. On Tuesday I’d caught up with Rich, the head of the lighting crew and the man responsible for creating much of the magic on display throughout the park. Rich, who is very quiet and reserved, agreed to have a group come over to his workshop and see how the displays are made, so some of us met at 10:00 to do that. Just as we assembled, a light breeze from the west gathered the clouds and carried them out over the Atlantic Ocean, not to be seen again. One of the park hosts picked us up in a shuttle bus and took us to the location.

As Rich explained the process, everyone gained an even greater appreciation for the scope of the creativity and hard work that go into transforming the night into a magical time. From coming up with an idea to projecting it from the rafters onto the floor and outlining it in chalk; from cutting, bending, and welding iron rods to wiring them with bulbs or rope lights; from setting up the displays starting in early September to manually replacing hundreds of thousands of individual light bulbs and laying out millions more, this is a massive undertaking that brings joy to the community.

We learned that there are 25 transformers located throughout the park just to provide power to the displays, and over 2,500 circuit breakers to control the flow of current. Turning the displays on or off requires nearly an hour of a staff member’s time each evening from early November until early January. We’ll post some photos to show you some of the results.

Promptly at 1:00 our bus arrived to pick us up for a tour of Magnolia Plantation and Gardens, situated along the Ashley River about fifteen miles from downtown. The plantation dates to the late 1600’s, and originally was comprised of over 2,000 acres growing cotton, rice, and indigo. The first mansion on the property was struck by lightning in 1811 and burned to the ground. Near the end of the Civil War, the second was burned by Sherman’s troops as he moved north from Savannah toward Virginia. (The neighboring plantation, Drayton Hall, was spared when the doctor who owned it posted flags around the perimeter warning of a non-existent smallpox epidemic, and frightened the Union troops into staying off of the property.) The current mansion started as a hunting lodge, which the owner had disassembled and floated down the river on a barge, and which has been expanded greatly over the years.

The extensive gardens were dug by hand by the owner of the property, who was told that the exertion would help to cure his tuberculosis. He also wanted to appease his wife, who was less than thrilled with having moved from Philadelphia’s high society to the swamps of South Carolina. Aided by slave labor, he developed hundreds of acres of terraces, gardens, paths, lagoons, flowering plants and trees. Our tour included the mansion as well as a tram ride and walking tour throughout the property.

Following the tour, we re-boarded the bus for a trip downtown to Hyman’s Seafood, where we enjoyed a farewell dinner. Succulent seafood, chicken, and pasta provided ample choices for everyone to find a favorite. With members seated at small tables of four or six, the room buzzed with conversation about the week’s activities and plans for future get-togethers. Some couples made plans to meet and travel together on their own. Many others have registered or plan to register for future FROG trips. Topping off their meals with a choice of ice cream or key lime pie, everyone agreed that no one was leaving hungry.

Thursday was close-up day. Our breakfast was located in the Activity Center, a smaller facility than Edisto Hall, but conveniently located in the heart of the campground on a small pond. Breakfast was set up as a “grab and go” to allow the option to sit and relax or to pick up something and hit the road for those who needed an early departure. Most chose to linger over pastries, cereal, fresh fruit, coffee and juice.

And then, most were gone. A few couples chose to extend their stays and to remain in Charleston over the weekend. Three were so enamored of the park and the festival that they inquired with the staff and picked up informational packets about volunteering to serve as hosts in the future. All agreed that it had been a great time.

On behalf of everyone at Forest River, from Pete Liegl on down the line, we thank them for being here, for their membership in FROG, and for being such great Forest River customers. And we wish them – and you – a Merry Christmas, a happy holiday season, safe travels, and great adventures.
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Old 12-01-2012, 11:11 AM   #7
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Great trip, our first with the FROG's, Bob and Cindy excellant Hosting. Really enjoyed meeting everyone. We will be on future rallys. happy Holidays and we will see you guys next year.
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Old 12-01-2012, 12:17 PM   #8
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I loved reading about the rally Bob. Thanks for taking the time to journal it and share it with those of us who couldn't join in. I also loved all the photos of the rally you posted on Facebook.
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