Big turnout for Allendale's 29th annual 'Cooter Fest'

29th annual Cooter Fest in Allendale (WRDW-TV, May 5, 2012)

29th annual Cooter Fest in Allendale (WRDW-TV, May 5, 2012)

News 12 at 6 o' clock / Saturday, May 5, 2012

ALLENDALE, S.C. -- Augusta is famous for the Masters, Aiken has its horse races, and even a lobster race, but folks flock to Allendale, S.C., for a festival whose name really says it all.

"We're having a cooter festival! Cooter of course is a turtle before anyone goes anywhere else with that, and we're racing them here in Allendale County," said Rick Gooding.

Gooding is one of the head organizers for the week-long festival that culminates on Saturday with the annual "cooter races."

It's a tradition that's been going on for nearly three decades.

"It actually started as a prank back in 1984, and it's grown into all this," Gooding said.

And Gooding's dad, Carl, actually came up with the idea.

"We needed a little excitement in the city of Allendale, and one thing we have a lot of in the Lowcountry is turtles, as you city folks would probably say, but down South, we call them 'cooters,'" Carl said.

You can bring your own turtle or you can rent one from vendors at the festival.

"I got some yellow bellies and river cooters to rent for the races, and they can either keep the turtle, turn it loose back in the wild or bring it back to me and I have a pond for them," said Dennis Morris, a turtle enthusiast.

And Morris won't be sitting on the sidelines during the races; he's already picked a fast one.

"He's got the racing colors already on him already," he said.

But the cooter festival is about more than just the big race. This week-long event is also about food, fun and entertainment.

"Craziest food you've ever eaten -- some of the best seafood in the world, and some of the best grilling you've ever seen," Gooding said.

But the event that really draws the crowd is the race.

"It's a yellow-bellied turtle and we raced it last year and it came in second!" said Sydney Clark, who participated in the race.

It's a race you've just got to see to believe, but folks take this race pretty seriously -- and with good reason. The grand prize winner walked away with $1,000.

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