When Honey and her owner, Mike Newman of Hilton Head Island, arrived at the Chaplin Community Park dog park Wednesday afternoon, they discovered two things that had not been there the day before, or the day before that, or any other day in the past few months: a padlocked gate and a sign reading, “Park closed until further notice” in big red letters.
Though the dog park, Honey’s only spot to run freely and play with other dogs and the only public dog park in southern Beaufort County, has been closed for the nearly three months since Hurricane Matthew, its sudden inaccessibility came as a surprise.
Since the storm, dog owners have continued to use the park daily because it has been accessible the entire time, Newman said Thursday.
“There’s literally no damage to the dog park itself,” he said, frustrated that he and others who have used the park daily have been cut off because of hurricane damage so long after the storm.
Julian Walls, facilities manager for the Town of Hilton Head, said the park, which is mid-island between William Hilton Parkway and Burkes Beach, has been a debris site since the hurricane and that there might be more damage uncovered as the recovery process continues and as new parts of the park get used.
“It’s a safety concern,” he said. The park hasn’t reopened “because of the traffic in and out.”
Walls also noted that the entrance to the park has been barricaded and there are “signs up that clearly state the park is closed.”
Up until Wednesday, though, Newman said he had not seen this closure enforced and that he doesn’t see why the dog park — which is on the opposite side of the park from the debris collection — needs to be closed off as well.
So many people had been using the park, in fact, that the dog-waste receptacle kept filling up, to the point that dog owners would bring garbage bags from home and move the filled bags to other trash cans in the park.
Newman said he called the town Tuesday to inquire about trash removal at the dog park and was told the park was closed. The next day, the lock and the new sign were in place.
The town cannot say when the park, or the dog park, will reopen, but Walls said it’ll likely be when the park is clear of debris.
“Honey grew up at the park,” he said. “Now she has nowhere to run off leash.”
Which parks are still closed?
A complete list of the town’s parks and facilities can be found on the town’s website, which details which are open and which remain closed after the hurricane. All of the beach parks and all but one of the recreational parks have reopened, while only half of the community parks are back in action.