David Lauderdale

Hilton Head’s famous dirt pile, and the bike path fence. Have we not learned a thing?

The Dirt Pile.

You might not think there would be a chapter by that name in the annals of Hilton Head Island’s “world-class” planning.

But there is.

And the recent Bike Path Fence brouhaha outside Hilton Head Plantation shows why we need to remember the dirt pile.

The fence has come down for now. It was erected earlier this month to block the Hilton Head Plantation bike path system from dumping bikers into a private commercial parking lot. Owners of the Main Street Office Park decided they didn’t want that, even though Hilton Head Plantation says it has a written agreement that has been in place for some quarter of a century.

So what can a dirt pile teach us?

The futility of blocking connections, something the cul-de-sac of Hilton Head is all too famous for.

The fallacy of the endlessly repeated notion that the private sector can do everything right.

The need for the Town of Hilton Head Island to intervene.

And the need for all of us to work for the greater good, because everyone can’t get everything they want.

The dirt pile was a literal, 4-foot-high mound of the Lowcountry’s finest dirt dumped in the middle of Main Street in 1989.

Main Street Village, and a number of commercial, office and church buildings nearby, cropped up on the new Main Street during the 1980s when Hilton Head was literally afire with development. The winding road runs parallel to William Hilton Parkway outside Hilton Head Plantation for 1.5 miles.

It’s a privately owned road.

And that’s why all hell broke loose in the early ‘90s when Developer A (Greenwood Development of Palmetto Dunes fame) wanted to connect its portion of Main Street to the portion built by Developer B (partnerships developing 70 acres owned by the Hilton Head Plantation Co.).

In typical Hilton Head fashion, the wailing over nothingness was deafening. Lawsuits were filed. Letters to the editor flowed from people already sore over all that evil development at the palace gates. It would be a cold day in hell, they roared, when you would see them darken the doorsteps of the proposed Harris Teeter supermarket — the one that to this day hasn’t had an empty parking space since it opened.

People didn’t want the Manhattan-like traffic that would result from one end of Main Street connecting to the other. The Hilton Head Plantation Property Owners Association won a court order to block it. So Greenwood Development dumped a pile of dirt there and went on about its business of developing Main Street down toward the Hilton Head Hospital.

For years, the dirt pile sat there, our pitiful little version of the Berlin Wall.

It was removed in the 1990s about the time the Hilton Head Plantation POA, to its eternal credit, built a roundabout at the Main Street intersection instead of going along with a proposed traffic light.

Now we know just how foolish the dirt pile was.

Through Main Street, with the dirt pile gone, people from Hilton Head Plantation — mind you, a place more populous than many South Carolina towns — can get to the public schools, the Island Rec Center, the hospital and all its medical plazas, the airport, the library, Mitchelville Beach Park, Barker Field, churches, restaurants and, of course, the supermarket, without getting onto U.S. 278.

The street remains privately owned, but the town should change that. Main Street should be taken over by the town — like New Orleans Road before it on the south end — because it is a vital connector for all of Hilton Head that the private sector is not maintaining properly.

Main Street is a tremendous public asset.

The public should own it, repair it, and put in bike paths or sidewalks.

And as part of that, perhaps the Bike Path Fence file can be closed.

It is not smart to dump bicyclists into a parking lot. Exiting the parking lot is almost as daring as trying to maneuver the nearby traffic circle.

So take this opportunity to continue the bike path down to Main Street, figure out a place it can cross Main Street, and connect it to the town pathways network nearby.

The fence is too much like the dirt pile.

It’s just that now we know better.

Senior editor David Lauderdale has been a Lowcountry journalist for more than 40 years. He oversees the editorial page, writes opinion, and tells the stories of our community. His columns have twice won McClatchy’s President’s Award. He grew up in Atlanta, but Hilton Head Island is home.
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