What started with a local diver hiding a few handfuls of shark teeth and other fossils on local beaches for children to find has grown into events drawing hundreds of participants.
That growth has brought a handful of problems.
Beaufort resident Mike Harris held his latest Shark Tooth Fairy Hunt at 11 a.m. Saturday at The Sands beach in Port Royal.
The unofficial, free event was promoted through social media and word-of-mouth and attracted several hundred people, he said. It also attracted the attention of the Port Royal Police Department.
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According to a police report, cars filled The Sands, an adjacent boat ramp parking lot, an overflow lot, both sides of Sands Beach Road and both sides of London Avenue down to 8th Street. Children and adults were walking in the road as both cars and boats were being maneuvered.
An officer closed Sands Beach Road, and it took about 90 minutes to clear traffic.
Harris was not cited by police but was instructed to contact the department before doing another event.
"Safety is the biggest concern, with the pedestrians walking out in traffic and vehicles still headed down, along with the boaters trying to use the boat landing," Police Chief Alan Beach said. "We had no additional officers out to help with that heavy traffic flow. This is manageable, but we had no prior knowledge."
He added that EMS and firefighters would have had difficulty reaching The Sands in an emergency.
Town manager Van Willis said police have to be notified before events with more than 100 people; security must be provided and an action plan created.
According to the town's contract for extra-duty police services, it costs $37 per hour, per officer, plus a 5 percent administrative fee, if police are needed at an event. A $50 deposit is also required to use a town park or The Sands, according to the town's reservation application.
"This thing has grown organically, and the organizer has an obligation to work with the town to ensure a safe event for all involved," Willis said. "We think what he is doing is wonderful, but it has to be safe."
Harris, who dives for shark teeth to sell, started burying and scattering teeth and other artifacts he has collected on local beaches so children can discover them. When he started this more than six months ago, the treasures were mainly his "junk" teeth and bones, along with some hand-sized Megalodon shark teeth.
Since word got out, he has received donations from collectors across the world, ranging from fossilized teeth and bones to Native American pottery shards, according to Harris' Facebook page. More than 300 pounds of objects were used in Saturday's hunt, including two 50-pound buckets of large teeth, he said.
"I have a whole town of kids and parents that love what I'm doing," Harris said via Facebook chat.
He added that in 10 to 20 years, "when these kids grow up, it will make a town full of really good adults. It also brings people from all around the U.S. to our town, which is good for Beaufort's economy."
Harris was thrilled with Saturday's turnout.
"I think it is great," he said. "Makes me want to do more. I can say for sure that every kid there was not playing Xbox."
He said he is willing to work with the town on future events, although he might consider a larger beach, such as Hunting Island State Park.
"I welcome (Port Royal's) involvement too," he said. "I have been doing this by myself and could use some help."
Town Councilman Joe Lee said he supports the activity but wasn't aware of how much traffic it created Saturday. He says a discussion is warranted to make sure future hunts are appropriately planned.
"I think it has great benefit from an educational standpoint and from a standpoint of getting children on the beach," he said. "And that's what we want. We don't want them inside playing video games."
Follow reporter Erin Moody at twitter.com/IPBG_Erin.
- 'Shark Teeth Fairy' shares treasures at Sands Beach, Jan. 20, 2014
- PHOTO: Hunting for sharks teeth at Port Royal beach, Jan. 2, 2014
- Local fossil hunter catches Smithsonian's attention, June 18, 2009