Locals and visitors itching to return to Hunting Island should be prepared for a new wrinkle when the park reopens next month.
Park officials target Memorial Day weekend to reopen much of the park to visitors —including part of the beach and the lighthouse area. And as one of the park’s busiest weekends, Memorial Day might be the guinea pig for a new shuttle system planned to address a parking shortage after Hurricane Matthew.
With hundreds of parking spots wiped out by the storm in October and not all of them being replaced, a system is being worked out to shuttle visitors from St. Helena Elementary School to the beach when the park lot is full. The ride won’t cost any more than the $5 park entry fee and will drop visitors at the beach, said Duane Parrish, director of S.C. Parks, Recreation and Tourism.
State officials hope to work with Beaufort County and use Palmetto Breeze buses. The shuttles would be used during peak times this year and could continue next year if successful, Parrish said.
“The big problem is weekends and holidays,” Parrish said.
Work is expected to begin at the end of the year to replenish the park’s beach. The restoration was planned before the storm, but the hurricane wiped out dunes separating the beach from the rest of the park and added about $500,000 to the project — bumping the expected price tag to $6.5 million.
Until the dunes are restored, visitors will notice open views of the beach and water. They will also see new bathrooms, park stores and picnic sites to replace the destroyed camp sites.
The sites will include a picnic table, grill and spaces for two cars and can be reserved for a daily fee.
About 2,500 trees have been removed from the park, Parrish said, with hundreds more planned for removal. Standing saltwater eventually killed many pine trees that didn’t initially appear affected after the storm.
After pulling marketing for the park in the months after the storm, the iconic lighthouse has reappeared in state and local marketing materials.
Parrish showed off a video of some of the state’s new welcome centers Monday during a meeting in Beaufort for restaurant and lodging professionals. The lighthouse was prominently displayed.
“It’s going to look different; it’s going to feel different, but people want to be there,” said Robb Wells, vice president of tourism for the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce.