Before Hurricane Matthew slammed the area, the Coastal Discovery Museum was the perfect picture of Lowcountry nature, sitting on the 68-acre Honey Horn site that included 300-year-old Live Oaks draped with sparkling Spanish moss.
The storm changed that picture, leaving the area around the museum ragged and damaged.
This week, the nonprofit organization with the mission “to inspire people to care for the Lowcountry” is reopening its doors on land that has been transformed into a debris management site — a place covered in mulch, limbs and stumps and humming with dump trucks and mulch machines.
“This is the opposite of our mission,” Rex Garniewicz, the museum’s CEO and president said. “ We understand that the town needs this land (for debris storage) and we’re happy to help, but we’ve taken a huge financial hit from this.”
Honey Horn’s nature-preserve-turned-debris-dumping site transformation has also been hard on the staff who haven’t worked at the site for the last few months.
“Museum employees aren’t like your regular business employees,” he said. “You do this job because you really do care about preserving the environment and the history of this place. They have passion, you know?”
“We used to come to work at this beautiful place and we were all so happy to come to work,” he said. “Now it’s a dump. It’s depressing.”
Before the storm, the museum hosted weddings and field programs that helped fund it. It also got revenue from the parking lot.
“Most of the money we make that helps us financially support the museum’s programs is made from wedding ceremonies and parking for big events,” he said. “Right now, we can’t do either. It could be May before we start operating in full swing on the property again ... .”
“A lot of people think we’re making money or getting compensated for the town using our land and that’s not the case at all,” he said. “We’re really hurting from this and now just trying to make end’s meet.”
Getting back on their feet
The Coastal Discovery Museum employees teach classes and host programs about Lowcountry nature, preservation, history, arts and culture. About 124,000 people visit the museum annually.
On Thursday, the museum plans to reopen its laboratory, store and museum location.
The museum leases the land from the Town of Hilton Head under an agreement that the site can be used as a debris management site location after a natural disaster.
Now, the museum now has a new entrance — the first right on U.S. 278 after Spanish Wells Road, about 0.2 miles from the intersection — carved out by the town while the property is still being used for debris storage.
A long road to recovery
Garniewicz anticipates the property will be piled-high with debris for the next four to five months, which means it won’t be hosting weddings until April or May.
Before recovery is over and Honey Horn Plantation is fully restored, Garniewicz expects a net loss of more than $500,000.
“We’ve already seen a net loss of more than $200,000, and that number is going to keep climbing,” he said.
The museum won’t go under, Garniewicz said, but has had to make cost-cutting measures like cutting part-time hours.
Spirits have been lifted now that the museum has a reopening date.
“We hope people come out and get some holiday shopping done at our store,” Garniewicz said. “We appreciate any help we can get.”
Re-open house info
The Coastal Discovery Museum is holding a “re-open house” and holiday store sale next week, featuring local goods and art.
Customers can take 10 percent off store purchases — 20 percent off for members — excluding consignment items.
The sale will take place from:
9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday
9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday
10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday
There also will be an after-hours “shop and sip” event from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Dec. 16
For more information, contact Jennifer Stupica at 843-689-6767, ext. 222.
The Coastal Discovery Museum is also asking for donations to help get them get through the next few months. To make a donation, call (619)-370-0615.