Back from the Fall

Sometimes it seems like six years ago, but it’s only been six months. As you may recall, last October South Carolina State Parks were reeling from two major disasters: Hurricane Matthew and the Pinnacle Mountain fire. Both disasters left their mark on several iconic state parks.  Matthew skirted the entire South Carolina coast impacting communities from Beaufort to Myrtle Beach. Hunting Island and Edisto Beach State Parks were hit particularly hard.  Storm surge and high winds took their toll and left the Edisto Beach Oceanside Campground covered in four feet of sand and standing water.  Needless to say, the campground was lost and unrecognizable. At Hunting Island, the damage was widespread: standing water, thousands of trees downed and buildings damaged beyond repair.  An already fragile dune system was lost, along with roads and parking lots. As if this wasn’t enough, the Pinnacle Mountain fire burned Table Rock Mountain and left deep scars on the landscape.  Fall began to take on a new meaning- rather than excitement about fall colors and cool temperatures, thoughts turned to the overwhelming task ahead of our team. 

Fast forward to spring, when Mother Nature reminds us of renewal and rebirth. As I visited both Table Rock and Hunting Island, I began to see first-hand the power of nature and her uncanny ability to heal and recover. While spring always brings new growth and change, this year was different.  Seeing new growth, such as the green stems of wildflowers popping through charred remains of the fire and the tender green growth of stately oaks towering over the fallen blackened trees that perished in the fire. A beautiful site indeed. As you visit Table Rock, you will have to look hard to see the damage the fall fires produced.  However, if you look closely you will see the remnants of the historical fire.  A simple trip to the overlook reveals the scars of the fire.  As you look out over the valley below, you will see dark spots of lifeless trees once filled with green leaves that now stand as a reminder of a fall hard to forget, but the dark spots are surrounded by spring and summer forest that remind you of the beauty of this place. The Stool, the smaller mountain beside Table Rock, was hit particularly hard. A closer look at the damage of the fire requires a hike on the Table Rock trail system. The farther up the mountain, the deeper the scars and while the scars are deep in places, the recovery is still evident. The park is a living laboratory with a great opportunity for park rangers and visitors to see firsthand the story of fire and how natures recovers. Each year the forest will recover a little more, until one day the fall of 2016 will just be a historical event that we talk about in interpretative programs.  As I walked back down the trail on a recent visit, the wildflowers were a reminder that Table Rock is back from the fall. 

Approximately 275 miles to the south, another South Carolina treasure recovers from the fall.  Hunting Island State Park has been closed since Matthew left his mark on the park October 8th.  I have been to the park countless times since the weekend of the storm, and with each visit the park takes on a different look.  From those first trips filled with despair and impatience, to the most recent visit filled with optimism and enthusiasm to reopen the treasure we call Hunting Island. Unlike Table Rock, visitors will notice the change in Hunting Island immediately, as literally thousands of trees have been lost to the salt intrusion and wind damage.  Familiar comfort stations, campsites and roads have been lost and the shoreline has lost most of its dunes that protect the island.  Hunting Island looks different.  Now you would think after this description there is not a lot to be excited about, but to the contrary Hunting Island is resilient, and did what a barrier island does. It protected the mainland, while maintaining the character that makes it a state treasure.  If you have never been to Hunting Island, you owe yourself a visit.  Upon arrival you will say: “Wow, what a beautiful place!”  If you have been to Hunting Island before, prepare yourself for a different island, then look a little closer.  Those familiar things that make the island so special are still there.  The ocean, much of the maritime forest, the wildlife, those ocean breezes and our beacon of hope the Hunting Island lighthouse are all still there.  As I walked from the beach back to the lighthouse on a recent visit, I was reminded what a special place Hunting Island was and more importantly still is. What a place, and like Table Rock, Mother Nature has started the healing and recovery process and we have started the process as well.  The campground will have new utilities and renovated comfort stations, the park store and lighthouse gift shops have been completely renovated, as has the lighthouse cabin and our Hunting Island team, while not renovated, is rejuvenated and anxious to see park visitors again and be a part of new memories at your state park.  We are close and working hard to reopen most of the park by Memorial Day. It’s been a long six months, but we are back from the fall and can’t wait for summer. 


See you in the parks!

Phil