About a dozen weddings and events at the historic Honey Horn property on Hilton Head Island have been canceled, and more cancellations are likely as the trash and mulch piles grow after Hurricane Matthew.
“Our wedding areas are debris-free, but the noise of chippers grinding and huge piles of trash definitely detract from the wedding experience,” said Rex Garniewicz, Coastal Discovery Museum’s CEO and president.
It could take more than six months before the site is restored, Hilton Head Island town manager Steve Riley said. It is currently being used by the town as a debris processing station.
“It is an industrial site at this point,” Riley said.
A towering mound of mulch can be seen from William Hilton Parkway, but many are unaware of the trash also stored at the site, Garniewicz said.
“It is not just logs and mulch,” Garniewicz said. “It is all the trash from construction as well. There is a dump operations occurring here.”
The 68-acre property is owned by the town but managed by the museum, which also has been closed for a month.
About 30 to 40 weddings and events occur annually at the Honey Horn site, with most happening in the fall and spring, Garniewicz said.
“We still don’t know a timeline in the spring, but we have warned people: If your wedding is in March or April, we don’t know if we will be completely up and running by then,” he said.
Others already have started canceling weddings set for the summer due to the unknown timeline, Garniewicz said.
It costs $3,500 to rent the property for a night, Garniewicz said. The museum budgets about $100,000 annually in revenue from rentals, which is spent on educational programs, he said.
Garniewicz said the museum also is struggling from being closed, adding that talks are underway about reopening the museum in the near future.
“How do we keep going if we can’t operate for six months?” he said. “We are looking at trying to get an alternative route through the property so visitors can still come.”
About 124,000 people — 82 percent from out of town — visit the museum annually, Garniewicz said.
Riley said the town still has “many” months of debris removal ahead. He also said that equipment, such as wood chippers, will have to be removed from the site.
Town officials will have to evaluate whether to use the Honey Horn site in the future if a disaster hits, Riley said.
“It is a tourist attraction that we can’t get back in operation,” he said.
Yet, Riley said he is unaware of another town-owned property large enough to hold the debris operation.
Garniewicz said it may be hard for the museum to sit idle for so long, but he is optimistic.
“While having the museum closed is hard for us, it is helping the community recover faster,” he said. “For me, it is a very mixed emotion. We are serving our community, but we are not serving our visitors.”