Friends of Hunting Island has released an new update on the clean up and restoration efforts at Hunting Island State Park after it sustained heavy damage from Hurricane Matthew in October 2016, and remains closed until further notice. The release gives us an update on repairs and reconstruction including the dunes, nature trails, campground, fishing pier and other areas around the park.
Due to the tremendous amount of damage, there is no doubt that many things will change and will not be recognizable once folks are allowed to enjoy the park again. In fact, you could say the park is being redesigned, as many areas of the park and beach are actually being reshaped by crews and state park officials as the landscape is being molded into what the park will be well into the future.
According to the release, clean up continues rapidly within the park including removal of debris from the trails. New trail maps will be needed once work is completed because so much has changed. Two trails near the lighthouse are completely gone, and the Nature Center Trail will have different fauna identified on a new map. That 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 has breached.
Work has not yet begun on the fishing pier, but it will be shorter than it was before the hurricane, once it’s repaired.
A bid was received of $60,000 to rebuild the marsh boardwalk. Primarily this includes replacing boards that the hurricane destroyed because most of the posts are still in place.
The Visitor Center has been completely repaired and is in use again by the staff. It is not yet open to the public, and the Nature Center is still the only site open. Last weekend about 200 people visited the Nature Center.
On South Beach, the base of the old water tower at the southern campground became completely exposed. Before the hurricane, small peaks could be seen buried in the woods 10 feet above the beach. Most people didn’t even know it was there. But now these pyramids are part of the new beachscape.
The ocean side of the Campground, which was hardest hit, has a completely new look. Once the debris is removed and the dumpsters are gone, this is going to be 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 a very nice view of the ocean. Sand fencing will be installed along the beach to create new dunes.
The bathhouse and sewer station close to the ocean in the campground will be gone next time you visit. In addition, four bathhouses in the campground are under renovation but the two closest to the ocean will not be salvageable. A new one will eventually be added near the gift shop.
Plans are to build approximately 40-50 parking spaces and several picnic areas near the campground store which, for a fee, will be reserved online or by phone for one-day use. That way families and groups who want a guaranteed picnic site will know they have one reserved before driving out to HISP. This same area will probably have walkways framing a V-shaped natural area that will be protected by sand fencing. (volunteers may be needed to help install the fencing)
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. It costs about $5000 to replace one full-service campsite. That includes the water and electricity which must be completely replaced because salt water got in all the lines.
It’s also being reported by Daniel Gambrell, Hunting Island State Park Manager, that the island’s native wildlife fared well during the hurricane. There seems to be no significant loss of animal life. They must have just hunkered down and weathered the storm. Osprey are already nesting at both bridges to the island, and the mama alligator at the Visitor Center is hanging out as usual. The live oaks suffered badly from the hurricane because the leaves were completely stripped off, killing many of them. The palmettos did amazingly well. The pines have deep tap roots, but many of them just snapped off in the middle.
The waterfall at the Nature Center was trashed by the storm and filled with sand. Friends of Hunting Island repaired it.
The main change you’ll see at the lighthouse is the beautiful new fence surrounding the compound which remains unpainted. Although the cabin at the lighthouse was slated for an extensive renovation this year, Matthew added to the expenses by removing the laundry room from the back. The central maintenance crew from Columbia is working on the renovation and expects it to be completed by the end of April. The changes include a vaulted ceiling and a larger ADA bathroom.
The lighthouse store withstood Matthew fairly well, but needed a new roof and paint job.
In addition, studies on the beach loss will reassess the beach’s renourishment needs. There is no definite date for renourishment at this time.
Volunteer Help Soon
Although it’s too early for volunteer help at the park, the expectation is that large crews will be needed sometime possibly in May. The first job will be to install sand fencing to begin to rebuild the dunes. The fencing will run just about the length of accessible beach. Fencing will be installed at South Beach later.
The second volunteer job will be to paint the new lighthouse fence. Friends of Hunting Island has already purchased 100 gallons for that purpose. With all the boards up, the treated wood is seasoning for a few months before paint goes on. Expect a request for help in April or May.
Special thanks goes out to Carol Corbin and Paul Keyserling of Friends of Hunting Island for the information and photos.