After years of planning and budget shortfalls, construction on two long-awaited Bluffton recreation projects is expected to begin soon, town planners say.
The first, to improve Oyster Factory Park, was originally proposed in 2002 and will be completed in four phases at a cost of about $2.2 million, said Laura Budak, Bluffton's project coordinator.
Budak estimates it will cost the town $365,000 to make park improvements that include upgrading Wharf Street, building a road-side stormwater drainage system, resurfacing the May River public boat launch, and stabilizing a riverside bluff. Beaufort County is contributing $200,000 to the project. Another $50,000 will come from a water recreational resources fund at the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, Budak said.Before construction begins, theS.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control must review it to make sure the river will not be harmed.Budak expects the permits to come through in April, near the start of boating season. A specific construction start date has not been set.
Bluffton officials will notify the Oyster Company and residents when the temporary closures of the road and the launch will occur.
"The entire project should take about three months, but the road and boat launch will be open most of that time, except for temporary closures," Budak said. "We will make every effort ... to limit those closures to weekdays only."
Bluffton Oyster Company owner Larry Toomer said town staff has promised the construction will not affect his business.
"I'm confident we're all on the same page," Toomer said.
Plans for additional improvements to the park include construction of a pavilion, a bigger picnic area and expanded pathways.
NEW RIVER TRAIL
After two years, the town has finished plans for the New River trailhead -- a project that will provide public access and parking for the 5.2-mile nature trail that begins just east of the New River and weaves through the Heritage at New Riverside community in Bluffton.
Bluffton officials say they think the trail is not used as often as it could be because it lacks public parking.
Bluffton received a two-year grant of about $86,000 -- about half of the total cost -- from the S.C. Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism to do the work. The town will provide the remaining $121,000,Budak said.The grant proposal estimates more than 4,700 Beaufort County residents eventually would use the trail.
Bluffton acquired the land through a development agreement in 2000.
The trailhead -- which would include a driveway, trash can, signs and an emergency phone-- was scheduled to be completed by April.
However, the town must now ask for an extension on the grant, Budak said.
"The soil in the area was very poor and mushy, so we had to relocate the driveway location and make it longer," Budak said.
The project will create a 15-space, gravel parking lot with a grass overflow area for 10 additional cars, as well as a driveway that connects to S.C. 46.
A portion of the New River Trail was opened to the public in 2003. The first 3.4 miles follow a Central Electric Cooperative power line. An additional 1.8 mile stretch remains undeveloped.