ST. HELENA ISLAND, S.C. (WSAV) – After weathering two hurricanes in 11 months, Hunting Island State Park is showing signs of getting back to normal.
The most popular part of the park, the campground, remains closed to the public. But as of last Thursday, more than 50 percent of the park is now open for business, including the popular North Beach and lighthouse.
Just two weeks on the job as top ranger of the park and J.W. Weatherford gets to spread the good news so many longed to hear: that parts of the park here are up and running months before expected.
“This staff worked really hard,” Weatherford said. “They have practice at doing this. So we were really able to focus our efforts on the day-use area where the lighthouse is and the gift shop to get some public access to the beach. That was really our focus to try to get beach access for our visitors, our locals and just the lovers of Hunting Island.”
The relief isn’t just for park-lovers, but business owners nearby.
Bobby Marshall runs a general store down the road and feels the hurt when Hunting Island is closed.
“This time of year, Fall and Winter, I’d say Hunting Island is 40 or 50 percent of our business,” Marshall said. “When they said it was going to be closed til January 1st that was very disappointing,” he added.
Weatherford put a “hyper-focus” approach to key areas they could open quicker, instead of spreading the staff across the entire park for cleanup.
Because opening up just some of the park now is a win, he believes, for those who benefit from its beauty and its business.
“This morning driving through I saw license tags from California, Louisiana and Minnesota- so there are still people from all over the nation and world wanting to get to our beach our lighthouse and really see what the island looks like,” Weatherford said.
And now that some parts of the island are open for business, the focus has shifted to the campground- making it a priority to have it open at the first of the year, Weatherford said.