Beaufort County could gain another public beach, rustic camping and a pristine barrier island to explore if a major deal goes through to complement Hunting Island State Park.
Media mogul Ted Turner has agreed to sell St. Phillips Island to the state parks system in a $5 million deal, Rep. Shannon Erickson confirmed Friday. The purchase has to first be approved by state lawmakers on the Joint Bond Review committee, she said.
The committee meets on Dec. 5, and the purchase goes before the State Fiscal Accountability Authority a week later, S.C. Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism spokeswoman Dawn Dawson-House said. The sale could close by the end of the year, and the state would spend months assessing the island and its potential before it would be open to the public, she said.
The property has been valued at $15 million, she said. Turner has agreed to “charitably transfer” the property in a “bargain sale,” a state news release said.
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“This is a tremendous, once-in-a lifetime opportunity for the State Park System to provide public access to an island that has been privately held for many years while also ensuring the continued stewardship of its natural resources,” SCPRT director Duane Parrish said in a statement.
S.C. Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism already has the money in place for the deal, Erickson said.
The purchase adds to major costs the agency has incurred rebuilding Hunting Island after Hurricane Matthew and Irma.
S.C. State Parks is preparing for a major beach renourishment project at Hunting Island that could cost $10 million or more. Hunting Island is restoring its campground, removing dead trees and moving forward with plans to build more cabins to accommodate year-long demand.
“The idea is to get both of these (islands) where they pay for themselves,” Erickson said. “That’s one reason adding St. Phillips is important. We lost a lot of usable island with the storms on Hunting Island.”
Existing buildings on St. Phillips could be used for overnight stays to supplement a lone Hunting Island cabin the public keeps booked all year. A main house and caretaker’s home are on St. Phillips and the island’s infrastructure has been kept in good shape, Erickson said.
Logistics are yet to be worked out, but visitors would likely have to ferry back and forth to the island by boat. Backcountry-style camping and existing potential for lodging could supplement Hunting Island.
Hunting Island hasn’t welcomed overnight visitors for much of the past 14 months as it recovered, noted Robb Wells, vice president of tourism at Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce.
He said he would work with state parks officials to develop a plan as the deal moves forward.
“Ultimately, it’s a visitor experience,” he said.