David Lauderdale

‘Discount Island’? Hilton Head is a public place. The masses will come. Deal with it.

Is this the busiest spring break ever? Here’s what folks are saying on Hilton Head

Hilton Head has been busy this Easter and spring break. We asked visitors and locals on Thursday to tell us what they've been experiencing. Here's what they said.
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Hilton Head has been busy this Easter and spring break. We asked visitors and locals on Thursday to tell us what they've been experiencing. Here's what they said.

Is today’s Hilton Head Island a “Discount Island” overrun by day-trippers?

This is a concern at Town Hall.

Old-timers (those who have been here long enough for the hood of their car to cool off) are used to this. It is the yin and yang of Hilton Head that has come and gone like the tides since the days you could land an airplane or herd cows on the beach.

It’s: “Please, please, please come see us. Buy a place and settle down.”

And they come.

Then it’s: “Get off my lawn!”

To the town, I’d say: “Get over it. Hilton Head is a public place, not a private club. The island has invited the world of tourists, timeshare owners, beach lovers, sun worshipers and even sleep-cheapers to come. Now deal with it.”

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This conflict was raised at the dawn of development by Hilton Head’s grand visionary and founder of Sea Pines, Charles E. Fraser.

He once said Hilton Head “was too attractive to let it go the way of all typical United States beach developments, which have a way of becoming a hodgepodge of conflicting uses, a joy and delight to all maniac builders and hot dog stand operators, but a nightmare to anyone with reasonable aesthetic standards.”

But by 1978, when the island was still reached by a creaky swing-span bridge, comedian Garry Moore, who retired to Calibogue Cay in Sea Pines, highlighted the eternal conflict when Fraser, the great prophet, proposed a water slide for South Forest Beach Drive, which indeed did come to pass.

“A few weeks ago, The Packet ran an article in which I proposed construction of a freshly stocked alligator pond at the foot of the new water slide,” Garry Moore wrote.

“I’m afraid this lends the impression that I am against the water slide. Nothing could be further from the truth. Indeed, I have a counter-plan that could produce income for the island while at the same time protecting its aesthetics.

“I propose to build an amusement device immediately adjoining the water slide. It will be called ‘The Water Pump.’

“Here’s how it will work. Tourists, having once been flushed down the water slide into the water slide pool, will be hydraulically swept through a flue into our Pump Pool. There, a large mechanical tornado will suck them up through a 40-foot coil, shooting them out through the top and landing them back at Myrtle Beach.

“(A few may be shot down as they fly over Parris Island, but easy come, easy go.)“

Harbours and condos

So what’s a bipolar community to do?

We’ve tried everything, or so it seems, to keep the riffraff out.

Fraser personally invited everyone on the “Who’s Who in South Carolina” list to come down for a weekend, and indeed some of these fine people settled on the island, raising its stock.

He also targeted retiring military brass, and we had a division of outstanding leaders who raised our stock.

We’ve tried pricing them out.

We have put up guarded gates.

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We have traded vowels for adjectives. We’re not an island, you know, we’re a “world-class island.”

We have added an air of exclusivity with mere strokes of a pen: a pond is a lagoon, an apartment is a villa, a harbor is a “harbour” and a strip mall is filled with “shoppes.” If your room overlooks the parking lot, it has a “sunset view.”

We elected a mayor who was the darling of The New York Times when he told the world that Hilton Head was “turning over the welcome mat.”

Meanwhile, Hilton Head introduced condominiums to South Carolina. This concept, which seemed to defy common sense (“Who would pay $35,000 for an apartment?), scared the little gaggle of settlers so much that they threatened to burn the bridge.

And one heroic retiree showed up at a costume party dressed as a giant condominium. Or at least that’s how it appeared to all those who had come to the exclusive party, along with their best friend Jim Beam.


This brings us full circle (get it?) to Town Hall.

Hilton Head has a Town Hall because it was incorporated to control growth. The town has helped immensely. But just recently the Town Council granted a rezoning request so that hundreds of new timeshare units could go on a congested street, replacing quiet tennis courts.

With a Town Hall, Hilton Head Islanders wanted to control their own destiny.

But now that destiny is in many ways in the hands of booming Bluffghanistan and Hardeeritaville. Not long ago, Bluffton and Hardeeville were tiny inland towns. Now they are wall-to-wall neighborhoods of people, with more and more and more scheduled to come roaring over the horizon to live steps from the beach.

And to the beach the day-trippers have marched, and will continue to march, bringing a world-class beach parking problem to Hilton Head.

The old “turn over the welcome mat” mayor was right when he constantly warned: “It’s the carrying capacity, chum.” You can’t invite more people to the party than will fit in your house.

Hilton Head could add beach parking spaces, perhaps, or start charging for the parking spaces to help pay for better and more public beach access.

Or it could put a sign at the foot of the bridge that would advise motorists when “All Public Beach Parking Lots are Full.” Call it the “Get Off My Lawn Sign.”

But Hilton Head is a public place, and people are free to come and go, free to sell cheap stuff and buy cheap stuff and free to bring a sack lunch if they want to.

They need to be welcomed, provided for, and treated like kings and queens.

Unless, of course, anyone can crank up Garry Moore’s pool pump.