Construction of Crystal Lake Preserve Park may be years away

June 30, 2009 

Beaufort County officials are negotiating the purchase of two final parcels needed to complete the planned Crystal Lake Preserve Park on Lady's Island.

But even when all the pieces of the more than 16-acre passive park are in county hands, development of a master plan and the start of construction could be years away. County Administrator Gary Kubic said the goal is to develop Crystal Lake -- and several other new county parks -- in stages to alleviate stress on already-strained county budgets.

"If gifts or other funds are not available, or if (construction) results in increased maintenance costs ... they may either be delayed or continued in part or just deferred until more money becomes available," Kubic said.

The county has spent about $3.93 million in the past four years to buy land for the park, bordered by Lady's Island and Youmans drives with Crystal Lake as its centerpiece.

Parcels now owned by St. Peter's Catholic Church and the Beaufort County School District should soon be under contract, said Glenn Stanford, president of Conservation Consulting Company. The company is working with the county to purchase land and design conceptual and master plans for the park.

"We're encouraged that both of those pieces will fall together within the next several months," Stanford said. "Part of the problem for the park at this point is the county owns 75 or 80 percent of the lake but not all of it. The park design plan calls for a trail to go entirely around the lake. And also in the western boundary of the lake, the parcels that the county owns are very narrow, framed by a fence from (Beaufort High School) and the lake."

Several parcels are already under county ownership, including four acres of the recently vacated Butler Marine building on Lady's Island Drive and eight acres donated by developer Dick Stewart, among others.

"The major parcels were acquired several different years ago," Stanford said. "Once all of the land is acquired, then we can start. It just takes a while to negotiate these things."

After Conservation Consulting puts together the master plan for the park, the county Parks and Leisure Services Department will oversee its construction and maintenance. Neither start nor completion dates have been set for either task, said John Miller, director of PALS for northern Beaufort County.

"We've talked about enhancing the lake and building some type of walking, multi-purpose trail around the lake," Miller said. "Of course, we're looking at playgrounds and open space areas. It's a passive park, so we're going to have passive activities."

Council Vice-Chairman Paul Sommerville said Lady's Island residents await the opportunity to enjoy the park at Crystal Lake, but most understand it won't happen overnight.

"It's like anything else ... everyone wants to see it finished, but there are certain steps that you have to take along the way," he said. "I think people are pretty reasonable that it takes time."

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