HUNTING ISLAND, Sc. (WSAV) — Of all the state parks, Hurricane Matthew hit Hunting Island the hardest. Park officials said it would never look the same, but this past week, they presented the state with their plan to rebuild and open sections of the park just in time for summer.
“We’re ready to get the park cleaned up and opened back up and ready for people to come enjoy the park again,” said Park Manager Daniel Gambrell.
Hunting Island State Park is a popular destination for more than a million tourists and locals alike.
For many people, “it’s a place to get away its their quiet time, for others it’s sitting on the beach enjoying the water. For a lot of people, it’s the campground; we have a really nice trail system so a lot of people come and enjoy the trails, we have a nature center where we do park programs, school group programs,” said Gambrell.
But its last visitor was Hurricane Matthew.
“Hunting Island of course is a barrier island, so it kind of did what barrier islands are supposed to do–they kind of take the impact from storms and protect inland. We had 75 to 90 mile hour winds here, the storm surge was roughly nine fee,” Gambrell said.
He described the feeling of returning from evacuation as overwhelming. The damages totaled more than 5 million dollars, $4.2 million in property damage and another 1.2 million in downed trees. With help from FEMA, insurance, and the state, they have a plan to rebuild an even greater park.
“Its gonna look different, it will always look different, it won’t go back to looking the same,” said Gambrell, “We’re working hard to make it better than it was before you know with new facilities, better campsites and things like that.”
Right now, they’re in recovery mode, starting with tree and debris removal in the campground.
“Once we get all the trees and debris removed, we’ll start to work on repairing and rebuilding facilities, rebuilding our utilities, and once we get all that done and get the park safe, and ready again, you know we’ll open the gates back up,” he said.
Their goal is to have people back camping and lounging on the beach by the lighthouse by June, but other areas will take much longer.
Gambrell adds that they’ve had tremendous support from park regulars who want to help, but at this point it is too dangerous to have volunteers. He says when it’s safe, they’ll allow anyone who wants to volunteer help in certain areas.
To find information on what they plan to bring to the park, visit Friends of Hunting Island. You can also purchase “Standing Strong” t-shirts to help fund the new park.