By Tony Kukulich
Not even the popular Hunting Island State Park (HISP) is immune from the current workforce shortage that is impacting businesses across the Lowcountry and across the nation.
A full schedule of short programs highlighting various aspects of the park for visitors has been canceled.
In the past, visitors to HISP could participate in programs like Gator Gab, Creature Feature, Serpent Exploration, Turtle Talk, Beach Walk and Sea Turtle Discovery. Programs generally ran for 30 to 60 minutes and all were free of charge.
“There’s not much of a story to report on that one, unfortunately,” said Park Manager Brandon Goff. “It all goes back to staffing.”
The recent resignations of the park’s program specialist and park interpreter have been particularly impactful.
“That’s why I don’t have any programs,” Goff said. “They’re not really canceled as much as they’re paused until I can find a new park interpreter to lead those programs again.”
It is estimated that one million people visit the 5,000-acre park each year. With the unofficial start of summer just weeks away, the park has struggled to fill open positions including lifeguards, maintenance staff and retail workers.
“It’s a challenge,” Goff said. “We’re not unique. It’s a challenge that every other business is facing right now. For years we were spoiled with super-low attrition. When he hired folks, we kept folks for 20 years or 30 years until they retired. It’s a sign of how things have changed. We’re going to have to navigate that as best we can.”
In recent months, the park has had its share of challenges and successes. The 136-foot tall lighthouse was closed in February after engineers deemed it unsafe for visitors and for staff. It is expected to remain closed for the foreseeable future. The South Carolina State Legislature recently approved $3 million for structural repairs to the only publicly accessible lighthouse in South Carolina. The project to repair the iconic structure is currently in the design phase, but a date for completion of the project is not known.
In September, the fishing pier reopened after a four-and-a-half year project to repair damage caused by Hurricane Matthew in 2016. That project cost nearly $1 million.
“We got the pier open in September of last year,” said Goff. “This will be our first summer season with the pier open in a long time, so that’s exciting.”
Another long-term project – repaving the park’s roads – is nearing completion.
“As soon as you come into the park, you’ll notice it,” Goff said. “If you’ve been coming here for the last 10 years, you know how bad the roads were.”
Despite their challenges, Goff said the staff remains committed to providing park visitors with a memorable experience.
“I feel like we do a good job providing that customer service,” noted Goff. “It’s certainly a load that the staff here carries on their shoulders. We pride ourselves on being able to provide quality customer service and take care of our park in a sustainable way. While it’s frustrating to have to pause programs, we’ll continue to move forward and hopefully find a replacement interpreter who will come in, hit the ground running and keep doing good things. I think we’re still able to provide those services to the guests.”
Tony Kukulich is a recent transplant to the Lowcountry. A native of Wilmington, Del., he comes to The Island News from the San Francisco Bay Area where he spent seven years as a reporter and photographer for several publications. He can be reached at email@example.com.