Carol Jacobsen remembers being so concerned about the future of McLeod Plantation Island that she got together with others on James Island to form a group to protect it.

What the work includes

Interior restoration of the 1854 main home, including painting, wiring, heating and air conditioning, light fixtures, wall and ceiling repairs, and upgrades to make it handicapped accessible.

Interior repairs to two slave cabins.

More restoration work on other historic buildings, such as the gin house and old garage.

A new parking area in a wooded portion near Country Club and Folly roads.

A new 1,200-square-foot visitors center.

A new pavilion near the Wappoo Creek for picnics and outdoor classroom use.

A Wappoo Creek viewing platform.

A network of crushed granite paths.

That was about 10 years ago, and Tuesday morning, she plans to arrive at the plantation's oak allee to mark a milestone that the Friends of McLeod group helped bring about.

The Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission plans to hold a brief ceremony to mark the start of a new phase of construction that will allow the general public to visit the historic site for the first time in generations. The event is invitation only because parking is limited.

The county agency already spent about $600,000 to stabilize the property's historic buildings, which include a grand home and an iconic row of wooden slave cabins, and this new work will build the necessary infrastructure for visitors, such as a small welcome center, a pavilion on Wappoo Creek, a maintenance shed and parking area.

"It will be the start of something really big," Jacobsen said. "It will mean that our work was not in vain."

The work also will restore the main 1854 house so it can be open for visitors and host weddings and other special events. Two slave cabins will be renovated so the public can enter them safely.

Director Tom O'Rourke said the commission debated whether to bother with a groundbreaking ceremony but decided it was the right thing to do.

"I've had the opportunity to be out there with some people, and I've seen them moved to tears when they start thinking about that site and what it's meant to people," he said.

O'Rourke said he knows many might focus on the cost, which will be about $2.7 million, as well as the appearance of the new buildings.

"But I'm not so sure I care about any of that," he added. "To me, it's about the human part of what went on at that site and to be able to tell that story, of all the contributions of all the people who have been on that site and its tie to Charleston's people and history. It's about what the site can do to change people, and I've already seen it happen."

On Monday, the site was being sliced up with temporary fencing and dotted with dozens of wooden stakes and colored ribbons to keep traffic away from live oak roots.

The new construction, designed by architect Glenn Keyes, has been designed to blend in with the historic buildings. It will include a 1,200-square-foot visitors center near the parking lot as well as a pavilion with barbecue pits, restrooms and a nearby viewing platform.

The parking area, in a wooded section near Folly and Country Club roads, won't be seen from the house or slave cabins.

Jacobsen said the Friends plan to remain involved in researching and helping to interpret the site, particularly on its burial grounds. No one knows exactly how many people are buried on the property or who they were. Debris piles from Hurricane Hugo and the passage of time have obscured many of the grave markers.

It also has raised about $8,000 toward a $16,000 goal that would pay for a series of park benches on the site, an item that was not included in the construction work.

The McLeod property has been open for special tours and programs, but will remain closed until the construction work - which is being done by Meadors Construction Co. - is completed in December. When finished, the commission will need a few more months to prepare to open the doors.

Cynthia Montague, the commission's assistant director, said the plan is to interpret the entire history of the property.

"We've owned it quite a while (since 2011), but this is the real deal," she said. "This is for the public."

Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.