Photo above: In preparation for the park’s reopening, four contracting companies are working there. One is clearing the 1,500 trees that fell in public areas, another is building new bathhouses, and two other companies are working to clear away buildings submerged or squashed by trees. Here, park rangers at Hunting Island State Park not only have to negotiate around fallen pine trees, but also deep standing water. Photos by Bob Sofaly.
By Lisa Allen
When visitors flock to Hunting Island State Park when it reopens Memorial Day weekend, they’ll find a much different park, said Park Manager Daniel Gambrell.
Parking, always a challenge, will be worse now. The 200 spaces at south beach are gone. Rather than turning left to the bathhouse and parking lot, visitors will continue on the main road to the J parking lot.
Because of the limited parking spots, Gambrell said they’ll close the park for the day when it reaches capacity. “We’ve tried the one-out, one-in system before, but it doesn’t work.”
A sign at Chowan Creek bridge will indicate whether the park is closed so people don’t drive all of the way out to Hunting Island. In the meantime, the park is still considering a shuttle service, but there is no timeline for that option, Gambrell said.
Gambrell told a record gathering of Green Drinks Beaufort at Johnson Creek Tavern about what park employees found at the park after Hurricane Matthew.
“We walked from the main entrance to the lighthouse,” Gambrell said. “Usually that walk would take 20 to 30 minutes. It took us four-and-a-half hours.”
Gambrell said even in waders to his hips, the water sometimes came close to topping them. At one point, he had to wait for an alligator to cross a submerged road in front of them. “We just looked at each other.”
Later, on a small piece of high ground, he saw the biggest buck he’d ever seen. “He looked at me like ‘You wouldn’t believe what I’ve been through!’” Gambrell told the group. Overall, he said it appears that most of the wildlife seemed to have made it through pretty well.
In preparation for the park’s reopening, four contracting companies are working on the park. One is clearing the 1,500 trees that fell in public areas, another is building new bathhouses, and two other companies are working to clear away buildings submerged or squashed by trees.
“It’s unbelievable all that’s going on at the park right now,” Gambrell said.
He said the campground won’t open until sometime in June, adding that the park will likely continue to lose trees as the saltwater intrusion takes its toll.
With many of the dunes gone, the park has a new look. “It’s going to look different,” Gambrell said.
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