COLUMBIA -- Hunting Island State Park no longer is accepting reservations for most of its popular cabins, fearful that continuing erosion would threaten the cabins or their infrastructure within the next year.
The 10 cabins at the park in Beaufort County already are booked through Thanksgiving, and those reservations will be honored unless beach erosion worsens remarkably, said Phil Gaines, director of state parks.
"The cabins are stable right now, but that area of the beach is so volatile it's hard to say what the situation will be next month or next year," Gaines said.
In recent years, beach erosion forced the destruction of some cabins and washed away portions of the lone road leading to several of them. Of the 10 public cabins at the state park, six are accessible by private vehicles and four only by golf carts.
Reservations no longer are being accepted for the nine cabins nearest the beach. The other cabin is well inland near the lighthouse, safe for now from erosion.
The beach on the northern end of the island was renourished with sand two summers ago. State park officials opted to use the limited renourishment budget for that end of the island because the campground and public beach there draw 95 percent of the park's visitors, Gaines said.
Other than the cabin area of the 5,000-acre park, "the rest of the park is wide open and ready for business," Gaines said. "The beach looks good."
Several offshore storm systems wore away the beach in the cabin area this fall and winter. Erosional areas sometimes gain sand naturally in the spring and summer. If the cabin area rebounds, the park service could begin taking reservations for the cabins again, but probably not until near the end of the 2010 hurricane season, just to be safe, Gaines said.
If conditions continue to worsen, however, the cabins might need to be closed. Park officials have discussed moving the cabins, or building new cabins, inland at the northern end of the park.
"But there are big questions -- how do you do it, where do you do it, how do you pay for it?" Gaines said.
The park could take a big financial hit if the cabins are closed. Each cabin brings in about $20,000 in annual revenue, according to Gaines.
The loss of the cabins also would disappoint thousands of people who use them as home bases to explore the park. Many have learned to work the reservation system, calling exactly 11 months ahead to ensure they can rent the same cabins each year. Call a few days too late, and somebody else has booked all of the cabins that week.
"A lot of families have a lot of memories in those cabins," said Bonnie Wright, president of the Friends of Hunting Island. "But you know Mother Nature loves to rearrange furniture."
Even without the cabins, the park would be extremely popular, Wright said. Visitors flock to the campground, the only publicly accessible lighthouse in the state, the trails through the maritime forest, and the beach. Recent renovation efforts have made more of the park handicap accessible.
"It's such a unique park," Wright said. "People say when they come through the front entrance, it's like going back to the Jurassic Park era."