Want to sip an iced tea while watching the sunset from a dock overlooking the May River in Bluffton?
By this summer, that could be possible not just for those lucky enough to have waterfront property, but for anyone visiting Oyster Factory Park.
Park visitors should also be able to find parking more easily, get their boats in the water faster and walk around the park more safely.
A series of improvements aimed at making this all possible is now underway.
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“This is something that has been in the pipeline for many years,” Bluffton town councilman Dan Wood said Monday. “It’s been a little slow in getting here, but (the project) is obviously going to enhance the entire community,” especially because the park is the the only public access point to May River in town.
Crews are clearing brush and dead trees to expand the parking area and allow for the addition of more spaces.
Later this week, work on widening the park’s boat ramp from one lane to two is expected to begin, councilman Larry Toomer said.
When you have two lanes, the flow can continue and you don't have people sitting around and getting mad.
Bluffton town councilman Larry Toomer
Once the expansion is finished, the ramp will be large enough to launch two boats simultaneously.
“We’ve needed a better boat landing. It’s very active here,” Wood said.
That activity can cause traffic jams with boat trailers backed up along Wharf Street waiting to launch.
“You always have problems (when boats are launched). There are going to be batteries that are dead, there are going to be motor issues, bearings that fall off, springs that break,” Toomer said. “But when you have two lanes, the flow can continue and you don't have people sitting around and getting mad.”
A courtesy dock will be added near the expanded ramp to allow boaters to tie down their craft as they park.
Improvements also include the addition of a sidewalk connecting the parking lot to the water’s edge.
The sidewalk will provide a safe way of getting from one side of the park to the other “instead of walking in the street with all the cars and trucks,” Toomer said.
Starting this week, the boat ramp and main parking lot will be closed for construction.
The Bluffton Oyster Factory, which is owned by Toomer, will remain open, as will the auxiliary parking lot at the corner of Bridge and Wharf streets.
The improvements are expected to be finished by mid-April and will cost about $879,000, according to town documents.
Bluffton has secured $300,000 in state and federal grants for the project. The remainder will be paid for with town capital improvement money.