By Sally Mahan
The beach and campground at Hunting Island State Park, one of the most popular sites in Beaufort County, was set to be closed until 2018 due to a series of storms and flooding, most recently Tropical Storm Irma.
However, state park officials say the north beach will reopen on Thursday, Oct. 12, along with 175 parking spaces. The campground will likely remain closed through the end of the year.
According to Ray Stevens, regional chief for the Coastal Region of South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation & Tourism, the unexpected reopening of the beach was made possible due to the fact that they were able to get pumping stations up and running so that waste can be pumped out. Saltwater intrusion caused by flooding damaged the park’s electrical systems, but repairs to the pumping stations were accomplished ahead of schedule.
Meanwhile, in order to accommodate traffic, the old entrance to the park near the lighthouse will serve as an exit road, according to Stevens.
Hunting Island has experienced a series of ups and downs since Hurricane Matthew hit in October 2016.
Ten months after Matthew devastated Hunting Island State Park, forcing it to close its campground, campers were pitching their tents on the island once again as of Aug. 4.
“When folks came back to the campground for the first time in almost a year, we wanted them to know they would be welcomed with open arms,” said SC State Parks Director Phil Gaines at the time.
The 88 camping sites in the area closest to the beach were closed and will remain closed for the foreseeable future because of the salt water intrusion into the electrical and plumbing systems. The park’s remaining 110 campsites were reopened with improved electrical and water service, and four comfort stations were revamped.
It seemed that the park was on its way to recovery.
Then Tropical Storm Irma hit on Sept. 11 and it was back to square one.
The park again suffered damages to its electrical and plumbing systems, causing it to close down.
But officials are hopeful that the campground will reopen after the new year and a beach renourishment plan is in the works.
Up to 1.2 million cubic yards of sand will be pumped along 11,700 linear feet of Hunting Island’s shoreline. Additionally, four new groins will be added.
As one of the most vulnerable locations on the island, the north end of the island between the lighthouse and the campground would receive the majority of the new sand.
The proposed restoration work would likely begin in early 2018, be completed by the start of the 2018 season, and cost about $10 million, the most expensive Hunting Island beach restoration project to date.
The island’s eight previous beach restoration projects totaled $13.1 million, according to the 2016 permit request. The island’s beaches typically undergo normal renourishment every eight to 10 years, and the last project was completed in 2006.
The renourishment project would minimize impacts to wilderness sections of the beach and would provide new beach habitat for shorebirds and sea turtles.
As one of the state’s most popular parks with more than 1 million visitors during a fiscal year, the restoration project could also result in a boost to Beaufort County’s economy as more visitors flock back to the popular beach and campsite.
“One thing I can say is that we’re never bored and lonely,” said Stevens.
For more information on Hunting Island, visit www.southcarolinaparks.com.