New Parks On the Horizon
Message From The Director
It’s been just over five years since I became Parks Director and moved into our central office – and it has been quite a ride. In that time, I’ve faced challenges I could have never predicted – like COVID – and countless positive experiences that remind me why I wanted to join the Park Service decades ago. The opportunity to learn and grow with the incredibly talented Parks and PRT team has easily been one of the most rewarding parts of the job, and I’m truly so proud of what we have accomplished – and the future ahead gets brighter every day.
Each of our state parks has a story – a history – of how they came to be. The teams at each park honor those origin stories in their daily work and in conversations with guests. Usually, you can find signage about the park and who was responsible for bringing it to life. From the school children collecting pennies to fund the creation of Cheraw State Park to the other 15 original CCC parks, to our “newest” park at H. Cooper Black, every park has a story.
I never expected that in my time as director, I would have the opportunity to help add a new state park to our incredible list of 47. To the surprise of the whole Park Service family, in the next few years, we’ll get to help create six. It’s an exciting and historic time to be on our team (we’re hiring by the way!), and I’d love to share a rundown of what our park patrons can look forward to in the years ahead.
Black River properties in Georgetown and Williamsburg Counties
If you’re itching to be one of the first folks to access a new park, this one is for you. The Black River Water Trail & Park Network will be the only park of its kind in the state park family. It’s a linear park that follows the Black River from Kingstree through Andrews and into Georgetown. Working with partners like Open Space Institute and The Nature Conservancy, the park has or is in the process of acquiring multiple tracts along the river corridor. We’ve completed master planning and you can find a story map here that will help you understand how the community and partners participated in the planning process. We recently hired a park manager, John Moon (who will be moving from his previous home at Kings Mountain State Park), and we are currently working to design and build five additional boat launches. Our goal is to have ramp access close enough to each other that no matter where you put in, you can get to a take out in one day’s paddle. Plans for the site include riverside camping, trails, picnic shelters, tree houses, overnight accommodations, and a visitor center. Because the “Park Network” includes existing ramps and facilities operated by our partners, you can access the Black River today – the story map has a list of sites currently open to the public). We expect to officially cut the ribbon on this park in the next few years.
May Forest at Fort Johnson on James Island
This is a small and breathtaking piece of property directly on Charleston Harbor. For many years, it served the May Forest Convent, home to the Sisters of Charity of Our Lady of Mercy. When the sisters sold the property, it was acquired by the state and the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, ensuring its protection as a serene green space in one of our fastest-growing regions. It sits adjacent to the historic Fort Johnson property, which traces back to the Revolutionary War. SCDNR’s saltwater fisheries program is headquartered there as well. We hope to open the grounds to day-use visitors soon, so they can enjoy walking and taking in the incredible view of the harbor. We are currently planning a complete renovation of the convent space to repurpose it as an overnight rental and wedding facility. Our park manager, Jay Reese, has been on site since last June and had the privilege of spending time with the former residents to learn their history. We are excited to be part of protecting this property and creating a unique amenity.
Ramsey Grove in Georgetown County
One of three properties the state acquired through a tax settlement with Dominion Energy, this property is located in Georgetown County on the Black River. It was the first property that was transferred from the utility company, and it previously served as a hunting retreat. The area is full of rich woodlands. We have been working with SCDNR to plan for the large duck impoundment on the property and recently signed an agreement for them to manage and maintain the impoundment. Brandon Goff, former manager at Hunting Island, will be moving to Ramsey Grove and should be on site in May. We hope to begin work on trails and renovations to the lodging facility soon after that. We hope to welcome day-use visitors to the site later this year.
Misty Lake in Aiken County
This is another small but special property that was acquired from the Dominion settlement and transferred to the state at the end of 2022. The existing infrastructure is similar to many of our other day-use parks, and we have hired a maintenance supervisor, Jacob Cockrell, to help us here and at Pine Island to recover landscaping and begin facility improvements. Along with the traditional day-use activities like fishing, picnicking, and playground use, we will re-open the community building for rentals. The long-term plan is to develop a campground on this property, and we are beginning to locate an area for a residence so we can hire a park manager. The park should open for some day-use activity on a limited basis later this year, and we hope to be fully operational (without a campground) by next year.
Dearborn Island in Great Falls
We signed the lease with Duke Energy for this property in February 2023. It consists of five islands on the Catawba River just below the Nitrolee River access. The main attraction to this area is a whitewater system Duke constructed that creates year-round whitewater access. On eight weekends a year, they will release water into the “short bypass,” creating Class 4 rapids for experienced paddlers. The state park itself will be on an island in the river, Dearborn Island, and our Lakes Region Chief, Jon Greider, is working with partners to plan for the site. Historic ruins that date back to the early days of America can be found on the island, and visitors will access the park using a pedestrian bridge from the town of Great Falls. Ultimately, we plan to provide kayak shuttle services, whitewater viewing, and overnight camping on the island, with a target opening date of 2027.
Pine Island on Lake Murray
Our final and most recent acquisition from the Dominion settlement came at the end of March, at Pine Island on Lake Murray. The area previously functioned as a private lakefront club for Dominion (previously SCE&G) employees. Our Sandhills Region Chief, Joy Raintree, is coordinating resources to get the grounds cleaned up and working to make the existing residence livable so we can hire a park manager. We’re also working with a consulting firm to conduct a traffic study on the area, and soon we will begin making repairs and improvements to the site’s existing infrastructure. After we hire a park manager, restore the community building, and have a final traffic study, we will coordinate an opening date for later this year.
The last five years have been a whirlwind. I cannot believe all that our team has faced and managed at our existing sites, and I couldn’t be prouder of the way they’ve done it. I am thankful to be a part of this historic growth in state parks – which means our values of stewardship and service will be taking root in more treasured places around South Carolina. We are truly grateful for the support of Governor McMaster and the South Carolina Legislature for fueling these incredible opportunities. Our team is overwhelmed but enthused with these new additions, and we cannot wait until they are ready to share with the world. Hope to see you in a (new) park soon!