Hunting Island State Park to get beach lifeguard in June

emoody@beaufortgazette.comMay 24, 2014 

Beachgoers play in the surf Friday at Hunting Island, where swimming is still at your own risk. A lifeguard is scheduled to arrive in June.

JAY KARR — Staff photo Buy Photo

  • Warning flags:

    A flag warning system has been started at South Carolina state parks, including Hunting Island, to inform beachgoers of swimming conditions.

    Green, yellow and red flags will indicate low, medium and high hazards, respectively. A second red flag would be added to the high-hazard flag when the water is closed to the public. A purple flag would indicate the presence of dangerous marine life.

Hunting Island State Park beach will get a lifeguard this summer, but not in time for Memorial Day weekend.

A full-time lifeguard was to begin Friday, but park officials found out there was a misunderstanding and the person hired didn't have the necessary certification, according to S.C. Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism spokesman Marion Edmonds.

A part-time certified lifeguard has been hired but is not available to start work until June.

The first lifeguard will work with park rangers and patrol the north end of the beach, near the lighthouse, Edmonds said. Hours of coverage are expected to be morning and afternoon.

The state parks department will pay half of the first-year costs and has asked the Beaufort County Legislative Delegation to find the rest.

State Rep. Shannon Erickson, R-Beaufort, unsuccessfully sought state funding through the legislature and said she is now working with county officials to pay for the program this summer. She intends to try again on the state level during the next budget process.

Hunting Island has not had lifeguards since 1998, in part because it was becoming difficult to find qualified people to work at the remote park, state officials have said.

Hilton Head Island attorney Russell Patterson began pushing for the return of lifeguards to Hunting Island last fall. Patterson, whose family has a cottage there, said he was spurred to action by three drownings in a single incident off the park's north beach in July. Six people have drowned in the past four years at the park, Patterson said.

Patterson's hope was to have lifeguards stationed from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

But Edmonds said hiring has been a challenge.

The parks department began advertising for lifeguards in April and received seven applications. It also sought help recruiting candidates from the Lady's Island/St. Helena Fire District, area schools, Beaufort County military bases, Friends of Hunting Island and the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Erickson said two other applicants are going through background checks and could be hired if they pass. In addition to the lifeguard that was to begin Friday, another applicant wasn't qualified and two more have not provided necessary paperwork, she added.

The parks department is still accepting applications for those willing to work a 40-hour week. Pay would be $9 to $13 an hour. Applicants must be 16 or older, have a valid S.C. driver's license, be Red Cross water-safety and rescue certified, and have current CPR and first-aid training.

The county's contribution to the first-year costs could come from accommodations-tax revenue, according to county administrator Gary Kubic. Allocations of up to $50,000 can be approved by County Council's Finance Committee, he said.

The state sent the county an itemized budget showing $102,000 in first-year costs, including $26,080 in one-time startup expenses

Erickson said actual costs will probably be lower because the program is starting slowly. Estimates were based on the cost of nine lifeguards and a supervisor working the entire summer season.

"We really need people," Erickson said. "We're hiring, and if there's anybody who is willing to do what it takes to get there, then we'd certainly like to have them on the payroll."

Follow reporter Erin Moody at twitter.com/IPBG_Erin.

Related content:

Hunting Island advertises lifeguard openings -- but still needs funding, April 26, 2014

Plan to put lifeguards at Hunting Island still in works, April 12, 2014

State parks director calls lifeguards at Hunting Island 'end goal', March 5, 2014

Flag warning system set for Hunting Island; adding lifeguards still being considered, Feb. 1, 2014

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