Cypress Gardens closed until 2018

Cypress Gardens, a Berkeley County-owned tourist attraction, has been closed since the historic rain and flooding that washed through the lower part of the state in early October.

Folks hoping to visit a popular Berkeley County tourist destination will have to wait a while longer.

Plans now call for Cypress Gardens to reopen in April 2018.

Berkeley County Council unanimously approved this week spending slightly more than $1 million on the first two phases of a master reconstruction plan for the park, which has been closed since last October’s historic flooding. The entire project is expected to cost $8 million to $10 million, with money coming from insurance and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“While it has been a long process to assess the full scope of damage and devise a master reconstruction plan, our resolve to rebuild Cypress Gardens into an even greater destination than it was before has only intensified,” said County Supervisor Bill Peagler.

The first two phases of the Cypress Gardens Rehabilitation and Improvement Plan include work on the pedestrian trails, boat landing, butterfly house, visitor’s center, cottage and restrooms.

The Berkeley County-owned tourist attraction has been closed since the historic rain and flooding that washed through the lower part of the state in early October. In April, officials said they hoped to open at least part of the 170-acre swamp garden by this summer, but the work was delayed.

The park, which has drawn 50,000 visitors annually, was originally part of Dean Hall, one of the Cooper River’s largest rice plantations. It has been featured in national magazines, television shows and movies, including the films “Swamp Thing,” “The Notebook” and “The Patriot.”

The floodwater damaged every building at the site. At least a foot of water collected in most park buildings, Director Heather Graham said.

Weeks after the flood, the park’s workforce was reduced by two-thirds, leaving eight employees to care for the facilities, plants and animals. The layoffs saved the county about $250,000 through June.

The flooding was just the latest in a series of setbacks Cypress Gardens has suffered, and it happened just as the park was beginning to turn a profit.

A train hit the Cypress Gardens Road Bridge in April 2014, temporarily closing the most direct route to Cypress Gardens. Even so, the site had its best year revenue-wise in a decade, officials said.

Berkeley County took over operations from the city of Charleston in 1996.

Reach Brenda Rindge at 843-937-5713 or @brindge on Twitter.