Proposed Hilton Head park name riles native islanders + survey

tbarton@beaufortgazette.comSeptember 5, 2013 


Squabbles about how to pay for a new rowing and sailing center on Squire Pope Road and what to put there might be past, but a new controversy arose this week:

What to name it.

The Town of Hilton Head Island's Public Facilities Committee voted 2-1 Tuesday to call the soon-to-be-constructed facility the Rowing and Sailing Center at Skull Creek Park. The recommendation will likely go before Town Council for final approval at its Sept. 17 meeting, according to committee member and Councilman Marc Grant.

However, Grant, a native islander who represents the area on Town Council, voted against the name. He prefers the park be named after the late Charlie Simmons Sr., who carried food, medicine, mail and people aboard his trucks and ferries before a bridge connected the island to the mainland.

Others native islanders argue the park should be named for the families who once owned the land on which it will be built.

"We already have Skull Creek Marina and (I) don't want us to lose the history and heritage of Ward 1 ... when we have the opportunity to recognize a native islander and businessman who made substantial contributions to this island," Grant said in an interview Thursday. "Not just a plaque on the road, but a place where people can congregate ... and ask, 'Who was Charlie Simmons Sr.?'"

Before the days of telephones, bridges and highways, Simmons and his boats served as a lifeline for Hilton Head; providing the primary link between native islanders and the rest of the world.

In 2010, Simmons was honored with a commemorative marker along Spanish Wells Road, near Jarvis Creek. Simmons also was among the first class of inductees in the Hilton Head Island Hall of Fame. The S.C. House of Representatives also passed a bill in March naming a bridge along Spanish Wells after Simmons. A companion bill has yet to pass the Senate.

"If they do both, that's fine with me," said son Charles Simmons Jr. "I wouldn't want the naming of the sailing center, though, to negate the naming of the bridge after him, which the family requested."

The Squire Pope/Stoney Property Owners Association suggested the park be named the Bryan-Walters Rowing and Sailing Community Park, after two native-island families who once owned the property. The group also suggested the name "Squire Pope/Stoney Community Park Rowing and Sailing Center."

The name approved by the committee "diminishes the heritage of the area," Veronica Miller, chairwoman of the property owners association, said Thursday.

However, Chairwoman Kim Likins and member John McCann argue the name the committee recommended -- suggested by the town's Parks and Recreation Commission in July -- is a better fit.

"It's simple, logical and better describes the location and intended use of the facility," to offer boaters access to the creek, McCann said at Tuesday's meeting.Once proposed as a public-private partnership, the center will be completely funded by the town, which already has spent $102,000 on design and environmental studies, $82,000 to remove abandoned boats and a dilapidated dock, and $5.8 million to purchase the land.

About $885,000 has been budgeted for construction, with work to build a pier and dock expected to begin mid-November and be completed by mid-March, according to assistant town engineer Bryan McIlwee. A pavilion, restrooms and parking lot will be bid separately to avoid contractors competing for limited space at the work site, he said.


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