Finally…our beach is back. After being ravaged by Hurricane Matthew nearly eight months ago, Hunting Island State Park reopened on a rainy Friday morning with visitors excited to be able to finally feel the sand between their toes.
Efforts to have he spot open by Memorial Day weekend were hampered by rain and flooding after an estimated 7 inches of rain fell on the area in a 36 hour period last week.
After Hurricane Matthew has his way with her in early October, work continued through the winter and spring with a huge effort to clear the beach, remove trees, rebuild buildings and clear the land. Volunteers from the community were brought in by Friends of Hunting Island and spent Wednesday & Thursday of this week putting some of the finishing touches on the park including assembling picnic tables and painting the fence around the perimeter of the historic lighthouse.
It may look a little different with the change in ocean views and the lack of dunes, but the sand is the same as are the natural setting of the maritime forest and the welcoming waters of the warm Atlantic.
Two trails near the lighthouse are completely gone, and the Nature Center Trail will have different fauna identified on a new map. The trail leads out to South Beach via a bridge over the lagoon. It will now at high tide reach a new island since the lagoon was breached.
For some visitors, it was like a reunion with a special friend.
“It seems like forever,” said Ashley West of Beaufort as she strolled the beach in the rain. ” We come here nearly every other week all year round and to be away from it so long…it’s just an incredible feeling to be here,” she added. “We could have completely lost her. It really makes you appreciate what we have, and it reminds you to take nothing for granted.”
Lots of the park is open again, too. South Beach, North Beach, the lighthouse, the lighthouse gift shop and the lagoon are all accessible. Most of the park trails are open for your walking or running pleasure, as are the Park Visitor Center, the Nature Center, the Gift Shop at the lighthouse and even a portion of the pier.
And, even better…the campground area is scheduled to open sometime in June.
The campground used to have 200 camp sites, but 88 were lost. Of those remaining, 10 have no services, and 92 will have both water and electricity, The ocean side of the campground, which was hardest hit, has a completely new look: a pristine tropical beach with a wide expanse of sand. Before the hurricane, you couldn’t see the ocean from the campground store because of the dunes, but with the dunes gone, there is now a very nice view of the ocean.
According to the SC Department of Parks, Recreation & Tourism, work is expected to begin at the end of 2017 to renourish the beach. The restoration was planned before Matthew came, but the hurricane wiped out dunes separating the beach from the rest of the park bumping the expected renourishment price tag to $6.5 million.
Thanks to the hard work and dedication of Hunting Island State Park’s staff and management, the SCPRT and scores of volunteers with Friends of Hunting Island, we can again enjoy the little slice of paradise that we have grown to love.
Just like a special friend.
Enjoy some more photos taken Friday morning at the beach and park.