As South Carolina park officials mounted an all-terrain vehicle and rumbled past the devastation from Hurricane Matthew in October, they warned Hunting Island State Park would never look the same.
Recommendations for the park’s new look were delivered this week to state lawmakers who decide on funding building projects. The redevelopment would include new cabins in the middle of the 5,000-acre barrier island, fewer parking spots, a shuttle service and 50 picnic sites.
Hurricane Matthew caused $4.225 million in property damage and another $1.225 million in downed trees at one of South Carolina’s busiest state parks, located in northern Beaufort County between Harbor and Fripp islands.
The park lost $1.3 million in revenue from the week of the storm through the end of 2016, the state parks report said. Officials anticipate a total of $4.4 million in lost revenue throughout the state parks system and $8.7 million in property damage.
Despite the heavy damage, Hunting Island hopes to open to visitors and some camping by June. The oceanfront campsites wiped away by the hurricane are not expected to be replaced until March 2018.
“We can assure you that some of the park will reopen before summer, and we will see many of you out on the beach with the coming warmer weather,” Friends of Hunting Island president Denise Parsick wrote in a letter to members this month.
Among the damages and plans at Hunting Island:
▪ The dunes were wiped out, destroying the oceanfront campground. A planned beach renourishment project is at least a year away.
▪ Massive debris removal is underway. About 75 percent of the cost will be covered by federal emergency money.
▪ 450 parking spots were lost, and only 200 of those are expected to be replaced. Park officials want to work with Beaufort County to find an off-site parking area for a shuttle service during the summer and busy weekends.
▪ Roads were badly damaged, some under water for a month after the storm. Repairs are estimated at $2.5 million.
▪ Two of the four bathroom and shower facilities were destroyed, and the remaining two damaged and now threatened by erosion.
The needs come as the state park service had already identified $100 million in statewide deferred maintenance to facilities, roads, bridges and dams, its report to lawmakers said. Parks officials marked about $15 million of those projects as critical needs.
Among the park system’s priorities are reopening the money-generating campgrounds at Hunting Island and Edisto Beach state parks, restoring Hunting Island beach access and cleaning up the lighthouse area.
Parts of Hunting Island are already on the way back.
The nature center and part of the fishing pier opened last year, not long after the storm.
A waterfall garden near the nature center has been rebuilt, Parsick reported this month. The old fence around the lighthouse has been removed, materials purchased for a new fence. Posts for the fence have been installed, she said.
Friends of Hunting Island is using its membership dues and donations to support the park.