New Hilton Head Park could bring the old golf course back to nature

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OPINION AND COMMENT

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Submitted photo of a snowy egret in the Mid-Island Tract on Hilton Head Island.

The Mid-Island Tract looks fairly ordinary on the surface, not the kind of name that inspires enthusiasm. What it represents, however, is somewhat extraordinary.

The 103-acre parcel in the center of Hilton Head Island sits inside the Mid-Island Initiative Zone, another not too exciting nickname.

But while the names – placeholders until something better comes along – are on the dry side, they represent a chance for the island to really figure out what its future identity will be.

The city acquired the land in 2013 and leased it for a time from a private company, who in turn operated it as the Planters Row Golf Course.

The golf course has since closed, although its fairways, lagoons and trails remain, and the city’s master plan recommended it be turned into a park. The popularity of transforming old golf courses into new parks is a trend seen in other communities, according to the American Society of Landscape Architects.

The question is what kind of park it will be.

A team of consultants are working on plans for the park and Jennifer B. Ray, manager of the capital program, said she expects them to share the initial concept for the park with city council in December or September. January.

While planning is underway, MKSK consultants are also collecting feedback from the community on what will happen around the park, the area better known as the Mid-Island Initiative Zone.

Here is the extraordinary part.

Hilton Head Island, which struggles to balance the needs of its roughly 40,000 year-round residents with the people who work here and the millions of tourists who come each year, has a chance to turn the tide and resist the impulse development.

The Mid-Island Tract could be salvaged for nature.

It’s a class supporters like Kay Grinnell, president of the Hilton Head Audubon Society, are hoping for and campaigning across the island.

“I think this is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Grinnell said.

Grinnell and his team envision what planners call passive recreation as opposed to the active type.

This means turning the Mid-Island Tract into a nature reserve with trails and nothing but toilets and parking for visitors. The rest, Grinnell hopes, would be “reused and brought back to nature.”

She suggests that active recreation such as tennis courts and playgrounds could stay in other island parks where some of these amenities already exist and repackaged in places where they are not often used.

“Ornithology and ecotourism are growing and that would put this trend on steroids here,” she said.

Bird watching is, in the opinion of everyone, a big business.

According to the US Fish & Wildlife Service, a 2016 report found that about 45 million bird watchers were responsible for “travel and equipment expenses” of nearly $ 96 billion in total industry output. . The industry accounted for 782,000 jobs and $ 16 billion in local, state and federal tax revenues.

Like many islanders, Grinnell is not originally from the island. She moved here like so many others because she found something she loved. “I fell in love with nature,” she said.

She’s also one of those 45 million bird watchers who travel for their hobby, stay in hotels, eat in restaurants, hire guides, rent cars, and buy equipment along the way.

His group notes that some 300 species of birds inhabit or regularly visit the island, which sits directly on the Atlantic Flyway, the largest of the four major migratory routes through the United States. The territory, for example, contains the only known nesting colony of red-headed woodpeckers on the island.

The city’s online survey asks residents to share their thoughts on possible uses for the Mid-Island Initiative Area, which includes a mix of old and new commercial developments, industrial uses, residential neighborhoods, Hilton Head Island Airport, municipal parks, and significant conservation and cultural resource areas including Union Cemetery and St. James Baptist Church.

Survey respondents are asked what they do when they visit the area and what is missing.

The number one item missing, according to the survey to date, is a park.

That survey ends this Friday, November 12, although Ray added that community feedback regarding the initiative area will also be collected during a park open house on November 20.

Hilton Head officials have made a concerted effort to gather public comment and we are optimistic that there has also been an effort to consider the opportunity that has presented itself.

Rarely do 103 acres of land go unused in a resort town and yet here they are.

We urge the city to let nature take its (golf) course.


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