Study of Morris Is., Folly's tip finished

An in-depth study into the history and wildlife of oceanfront parcels on Morris Island and the northern tip of Folly Beach is finished, and now it's the public's turn to say how this information should guide what is built there.

The Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission paid for the study as it weighs what sort of development and public access should be allowed on the northern tip of Morris Island, also known as Cummings Point, and the northern end of Folly Beach, an abandoned Coast Guard site.

The county already owns the Coast Guard site and is working with the Trust for Public Land and developer Bobby Ginn to manage Cummings Point, 62 acres on the island's undeveloped northern end just south of Fort Sumter.

Landscape architect Dale Jaeger and scientist Lee Allen of Allen & Associates presented the studies Wednesday downtown and at Folly Beach.

Both Cummings Point and the northern tip of Folly are visited regularly by the public, but neither has clear signs or paths. Jaeger said some visitors who bring their dogs or off-road vehicles to Cummings Point are causing the most damage.

Allen said he talked with one visitor who told him he didn't know threatened birds stopped there. "I said, 'Yes, your dog is chasing some federally protected plovers right now,' " he said.

The study shows which parts of the island are most sensitive, mostly because of the habitat they offer. They also suggest options for providing access.

On Cummings Point, the two options are: Doing practically nothing except for a kiosk with a list of rules and an interpretive sign near Fort Sumter, or building a dock, a moldering toilet facility (one with no running water) and a boardwalk linking the dock with the beach. The boardwalk would follow the route of an old road bed.

On Folly, the options include combinations of a trail system, signs, a large interpretive center with air conditioning and restrooms, a parking area and an overlook to the Morris Island Lighthouse across the inlet.

Dale said Cummings Point has eroded away and re-formed since Union and Confederate troops clashed there more than 140 years ago. While very few artifacts remain there from that time, the site still has historic value because of its spatial relationship with Forts Sumter and Moultrie.

Once the consultants receive the final public comments, they will rework the plan and unveil a final version June 26. After that, the county will decide what to do next.

The amount of public access to Cummings Point has been a sticking point as the Trust for Public Land, Ginn, the county and other groups have tried to formalize a deal to place it in public hands. The study could help break that jam.

"We'll look at what the public has to say and weigh the pros and cons," Hensley said.