First Look: Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge closed to visitors

A fallen trees along a trail at Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge after Hurricane Matthew Oct. 12, 2016.
A fallen trees along a trail at Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge after Hurricane Matthew Oct. 12, 2016.

The Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge will remain closed to visitors until further notice to recover from Hurricane Matthew, which left downed trees, flooded paths and dangling branches along the popular hiking and biking spot next to Hilton Head Island.

Major work has already begun at the refuge with crews clearing large trees off of the main path, said Monica Harris, visitor services manager at Savannah Coastal Refuges Complex, a part of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that manages Pinckney Island.

While many downed trees are visible throughout the refuge, staff with the complex will only remove the trees and branches that will be dangerous to visitors. The area that appears to remain the biggest point of concern is the parking lot, where several large trees are draped across pathways and the road.

Volunteers and staff are also cleaning up debris on the causeway to the island which flooded during the storm. Popular trails, including the path along Ibis Pond are also underwater from the storm.

The biggest lasting difference to the area, however, will be that tree lines have changed with some areas having many fallen trees, including live oaks and a group of long leaf pines the refuge was working to cultivate.

There is no estimated date yet for when the refuge will reopened, Harris said. The island gets an estimates 200,000 visitors each year, making it the most popular of the Savannah Coastal Refuges Complex’s seven refuges.

Erin Heffernan: 843-706-8142, @IPBG_Erinh

Nearby state parks, wildlife refuges closed

Several national wildlife refuges in the path of Hurricane Matthew have been closed until further notice because of widespread storm damage, according to a news release from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service:

  • Pinckney Island NWR, near Hilton Head Island
  • Savannah NWR, in Jasper County and Georgia’s Chatham and Effingham counties
  • Wassaw NWR, in Georgia’s Chatham County
  • Harris Neck and Blackbeard Island NWRs, in Georgia’s McIntosh County

The S.C. Department of Natural Resources closed the following wildlife management areas until further notice:

  • Bear Island WMA
  • Botany Bay Plantation WMA
  • Donnelley WMA
  • Edisto River WMA
  • Dungannon Plantation HP/WMA
  • Great Pee Dee HP/WMA
  • Hamilton Ridge WMA
  • Marsh WMA
  • Palachucola WMA
  • Santee Cooper WMA
  • Little Pee Dee Heritage Preserve
  • Waccamaw River Heritage Preserve
  • Wateree River Heritage Preserve WMA
  • Webb WMA
  • Woodbury WMA

The S.C. Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism has closed the following state parks until further notice:

  • Myrtle Beach State Park
  • Huntington Beach State Park
  • Edisto Beach State Park
  • Hunting Island State Park
  • Givhans Ferry State Park
  • Colonial Dorchester State Historic Site
  • Hampton Plantation State Historic Site
  • Santee State Park
  • Little Pee Dee State Park
  • Lee State Park
  • Rivers Bridge State Historic Site

These state parks were closed after Hurricane Matthew but have since reopened:

  • Colleton State Park
  • Charles Towne Landing State Historic Site
  • Poinsett State Park
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