State Parks officials hope to finally reopen a coastal park damaged by Hurricane Matthew in time for Memorial Day.
Park Service Director Phil Gaines said Hunting Island State Park is on track to partially reopen within three weeks, more than six months after the storm devastated the Beaufort County island. Only the park’s popular north beach — including its landmark lighthouse — would be open in time. Gaines hopes the park’s south beach area and campground will be able to reopen by the end of June.
“Once you get over the loss of trees, you’ll say wow, ‘What a beautiful place,'” he told South Carolina Radio Network. “If you’ve never been to Hunting Island before, the first time you go onto Hunting Island after we reopen, you will think, ‘Wow. What an amazing place.’ It’s going to look great. It’s just going to look different.”
Currently, only the park’s nature center is open to visitors. But it may be another year before visitors can camp at the park once again.
A legislative panel last month signed authorized an additional $500,000 for the state Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism (SCPRT) to pay for repairs to other storm-damaged parks at Edisto Beach and Little Pee Dee state parks. Gaines said the agency still expects roughly $3.5 million in total repair costs, but hopes roughly 75 percent of the cost will eventually be reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Until that happens, though, the agency is straining its resources to get the parks back online. Roughly $9,700 in repairs for a breached dam at Little Pee Dee, for instance, are coming from a fund meant to help provide incentives for the state’s fledgling film industry. Approximately $480,000 in repairs to Edisto Beach are coming from a fund which normally allocated to new county-level parks.
But Gaines said reopening the South Carolina’s most-visited state park is also big for tourism in the Beaufort region. “Parks are so critically important beyond their gates,” he said. “Hunting Island and Edisto Beach are critical components of the tourism product of the Lowcountry and certainly provide a lot of economic engines for those local communities that depend on the park and having the thousands and thousands of campers and visitors.
Edisto Beach’s beachfront campground was flooded by Hurricane Matthew’s storm surge and will remain closed for the summer, according to PRT officials. The agency hopes campers will be allowed to return in September.