How should Crystal Lake be developed?

in Community by

By Peggy Allard, Co-Chair Friends of Crystal Lake Committee
At a price of more than $3 million dollars, the 25 acres of land surrounding Crystal Lake has been purchased as part of the Rural and Critical Lands Program and is now available for development as a community park. Since it was purchased with funds from the Rural and Critical Lands Program, the activities allowed in the park must be passive in nature (no athletic fields).  When looking at the question of the future of Crystal Lake and the best use of the property which surrounds it, one needs to understand the history of the lake.
What today is referred to as Crystal Lake on Lady’s Island is, in actuality, a 6 acre barrow pit filled with water and surrounded by a large amount of wetlands. Local lore indicates that the dirt taken from the site to make the lake was used as landfill for the 1978-79 construction of the Henry C. Chambers waterfront park.
Over the years, the lake became a favorite swimming hole for young people of the community.  However, in 1994 there was a tragic drowning of a 15-year-old young woman in the lake and as a result restrictions became necessary regarding public access.  Sadly, the area surrounding the lake also became a site for the illegal dumping of trash.
The idea of using Crystal Lake as a passive park first arose in 1999 while the Lady’s Island Community Preservation Committee was drafting the zoning for the Village Center. Jane Frederick, Pat Harvey Palmer and Merritt Patterson became champions of the idea of developing the lake as a community park.  Merritt developed a slide show of similar lakes that had been transformed into small parks to demonstrate what a great idea it could be.
In 2003, Allen Ward, President of the Ward Edwards engineering firm published a study that recommended Crystal Lake, in addition to being developed as a recreational facility, become part of a storm water management program for the Village Center. Almost everyone agreed that development of the lake was a good idea but the lake and two acres around it belonged to a group of individuals who had purchased it as an investment and there were no available public funds with which to purchase the lake.
At that point, in 2004, Dick Stewart of 303 Associates quietly and without fanfare managed to purchase the property and offered it to the county as gift to the Lady’s Island community. Even with the gift of the lake from the Stewart family, which the county accepted, the property surrounding the lake belonged to a variety of other owners thus blocking any public access to the lake.
LIBPA requested The Trust for Public Lands, using funds from the Rural and Critical Lands program; consider purchase of the property surrounding the lake.  In response to this request, in 2004 the property on which the Butler Marine enterprise was located was purchased for $1.25 million with the proviso that the business could, by paying rent, remain on the property for three years from the date of purchase.
In 2005, a couple of other pieces of property adjacent to the lake were purchased by the Trust for Public Land. In 2006, Land Plan Partnership was hired by the county to conduct the preliminary planning for the development of a passive park.  The Lady’s Island Community Preservation Committee worked with representatives of Land Plan Partnership and Beaufort County Parks and Leisure Services Department (PALS) to develop an initial design for the park which included walking trails and a children’s playground. At the end of 2006, County Council agreed to consider the concept of allowing the establishment of an Estuarium or Interpretative Center on the Crystal Lake property for the purpose of allowing people to “learn of the contributions the estuaries, salt and brackish waters, tides and the life forms within these area make to the quality of life in Beaufort.”
In 2007, contracts for the widening of Lady’s Island Drive and the construction of an additional bridge parallel to the McTeer Bridge were awarded with actual work beginning in 2009. The facilities and land purchased from Butler Marine was authorized for use by the contractors as a headquarters and lay down area. Since construction of the bridge is scheduled to be under way until the end of 2011, this commitment would prevent any actual development of that portion of the property until the construction of the bridge is completed.
In the decade since the idea of a Crystal Lake Park was first proposed, many additional ideas for use of the property surrounding the lake have been put forward.  At this point, a group of Lady’s Island residents have formed a Friends of Crystal Lake committee to develop a community sponsored plan for the development of the property and lake. The present membership of the committee includes Frank Gibson and Peggy Allard (co-chairs); Kathryn Madden (Executive Director of Port Royal Sound Foundation); Joe Allard (representative for the Lowcountry Master Gardener Association and the South Coast Chapter of the SC Native Plant Society); Jon Rembold (representative for St. Peter Catholic Church and Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce); Diane Fisk (representative for the Lowcountry Master Naturalist Association); Carol Crutchfield (Beaufort County School District);  Jim Hicks, Lady’s Island Planning Commission; Clarence Washington, community representative; and Billie Lindsay, Beaufort County Planning Department representative.
The goal of this committee is to develop a Crystal Lake  plan by March 1, 2012, that could include walking paths, a small playground, lake activities, and educational opportunities to highlight the unique ecology of Lady’s Island.  All meetings of the Friends of Crystal Lake Committee are open to the public and will be held at the Lady’s Island Airport conference room at 10 a.m. on the following dates:  January 16, 30, and February 13 and 27.  Additional information regarding Crystal Lake Park will be available at the Lady’s Island Charrette to be held on December 7, 8 and 9 at 81 Sea Island Parkway (former Lighthouse Restaurant). Please come and give us your ideas for this exciting opportunity on Lady’s Island.