Erosion along the beaches of Hunting Island has washed away many beach cottages in recent years.
But what the tides left behind now concerns some frequent park guests.
One visitor, Camille Myers, said Tuesday she found cinder blocks and an old, rusted bathtub during a recent walk along the beach at low tide.
"I was surprised about finding it there," said Myers, director of research and planning at Technical College of the Lowcountry in Beaufort. "I'm not an expert on the environment, but it can't be good for it at all."
Park Manager Daniel Gambrell said if debris is reported by a guest, staff will clean it up or determine if heavy equipment is needed to haul it away. Last winter, for example, Marines from Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort helped bulldoze old foundations, Gambrell said.
Gambrell said the state park maintains -- or removes what's left of -- the houses it owns, but private homes are the owners' responsibility, even if they're threatened by erosion.
S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control spokeswoman Lindsey Evans said the department works with park officials to ensure that abandoned homes like the ones on Hunting Island pose no hazard.
However, Myers suspects the houses are falling into the water without being emptied of hazardous materials. For example, she and a friend viewed a crumbling house from which nothing had been removed.
"There were still old paint cans and chemicals sitting inside the house," she said. "There was an air conditioning unit still installed outside the house. It looked like nothing had been removed from it, and water was already starting to enter the house."
Erosion has since washed all traces of that home away, Myers said. She's unsure what happened to its contents.
Beach erosion on Hunting Island takes away sand at a rate of nearly 15 feet per year, and its effects are most pronounced on its southern end. A road leading to cottages there has been washed out, and many of the houses along the stretch of beach where Myers noticed the most debris have been abandoned.
Today, the park offers just one beach house for rentals, a cabin near the Hunting Island lighthouse at its northern end, well away from the areas most affected by erosion. The park stopped renting out the other nine beach homes it owned in 2010, after erosion undermined the houses and sections of Cabin Road, making the area virtually inaccessible.
Myers said that if a volunteer group formed to remove the debris, she would be willing to join.
"I'm not sure if a law would prevent volunteers from certain cleanup along the beaches, but I think the state park would welcome a group," she said. "There are many people who enjoy camping and vacationing on Hunting Island, and I think both the park, Beaufort County, and the state would have a vested interest in keeping it clean and safe."
- Hunting Island evacuates residents as erosion claims road, Oct. 11, 2010
- New reservations for Hunting Island cabins won't be accepted, state says, Jan. 14, 2010
- Hunting Island cabin occupants vow to stay until the Atlantic forces them out, July 24, 2009