FOLLY BEACH — Dredge pipes are now stacked at the closed Charleston County park here. Loaders wait. The work is about to begin to restore the lost beach.
That’s something a lot of people in the Lowcountry have been waiting two years to hear. Park officials are on track to reopen the popular destination by mid-summer, providing at least parking and portable bathrooms, as well as lifeguards.
Dredges could start pumping sand from Folly River as soon as this weekend, said Andy Hammill, Charleston County Park and Recreation assistant director. “That’s the hope.”
A groin would be built once the sand is in place, to hold it there. Groins are erosion-control barriers, usually rock or wood, built out into the surf to partly dam the flow of sand in the current along the shore.
That can’t come quickly enough for the cars that pulled one after another to the gates on Tuesday then turned and drove away, or the families walking the beach who stopped to take in the equipment’s arrival.
The $3 million groin and renourishment project is designed to rebuild some beach and dunes and protect renourished sand at the park, which closed in 2011 after high waves tore it up as Hurricane Irene passed offshore. Since then, the former office, showers and bathrooms have been undercut by erosion and removed by the Park and Recreation Commission.
What used to be a wide spit beach with a swath of maritime forest is now largely washed over, with tides reaching into the marsh behind. Only two small patches of maritime forest are left.
Park officials had worried aloud that, if the work couldn’t be done this year, the stretch of land that holds the park could be lost.
Having given up on overdue federal funds to renourish Folly Beach as a whole, officials pulled the funds from bond money and reserves. The park is one of only three sizable public beach parks in the Charleston area, and its closing has put pressure on the other two during the summer season. Folly drew more than 100,000 people a year; since it closed, Beachwalker Park on Kiawah Island has been overrun and the Isle of Palms park has been jammed.
For Folly Beach Mayor Tim Goodwin, the groin is another step in a pitched effort to keep from losing homes on either end of the volatile barrier island. Property owners near the park have been among those fighting state regulators to be able to protect their homes as the sand washes away beneath them.
The groin should restore some sand to the beach in front of those homes, he said. “The erosion isn’t going away, that’s for sure.”