Folly park could reopen by summer

Folly Beach County Park has been closed since 2011 when the effects of Hurricane Irene severely eroded the beach and caused the dismantling of many facilities. Access to the park may be possible by summer.

FOLLY BEACH — The popular Charleston County beach park here could reopen by mid-summer, officials say now.

But this Folly Beach park won’t be the one you remember. It will have parking and at least portable bathrooms, but it’s not likely to feature any other facilities right away. Park officials have made a priority of simply providing public access to the beach.

What was left of the snack bar and showers on the severely eroded park grounds have been dismantled.

It could be two years or more before facilities are restored to a semblance of what they were before the park closed in 2011.

“Even though we want to do that, that’s like gravy,” said Tom O’Rourke, Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission director. “Not this summer and probably not next.”

Folly Beach County Park was 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.

Those two parks and the Folly Beach pier are virtually the only beaches in the area with lifeguards during the summer season.

Built on a spit of land on the island’s west end, the Folly Beach park closed after huge waves from passing Hurricane Irene tore through the dunes and crossover boardwalks. Since then, surf erosion has progressively destroyed park features.

Today, except for the beach itself, the park is all but gone — its sands washing into the marsh behind during storm tides.

The commission now has a state permit in hand, which also was mailed Wednesday to the federal Army Corps of Engineers, said Jim Beasley of S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control. The permit is the final document the Army Corps needs to decide its permit, and that permit is the final go-ahead the project needs.

The decision remains a priority, said Sara Corbett of the Army Corps’ Charleston district office. On Friday, she could not say if the office had the state permit in hand yet.

Once the federal permit is issued, the commission has a 60-day window to complete work, O’Rourke said.

The commission wants to erect a groin — a wood or rock barrier — stretching more than 700 feet, including 200 feet out to sea. The $3 million groin and renourishment project would rebuild some beach, dunes and protect renourished sand. Park officials have the funds in bond money and reserves.

The Army Corps issued a similar permit to the commission in 2003, but the groin wasn’t built because all of Folly Beach was renourished, including park grounds.

The commission had hoped for a June reopening when it announced the project in September last year. But the earliest work could have begun was March, so the project is not far behind schedule, depending on the Army Corps permit.

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