Hurricane Irene buries Folly Beach park

By Natalie Caula

FOLLY BEACH, S.C. (WCIV) - Cathy and Steven Martin will usually walk along the shore of Folly Beach after a storm--it's when they say they will find buried treasure.

"We found several of the state shell, we love those," Cathy Martin said.

She and her husband held up a bag and bin full of seashells, small, and some enormous.

"It takes a strong current to get these up from the bottom," she said.

That's not all the Summerville couple found buried when walking along the west end of the island.

"Oh my gosh! The dunes were gone," Cathy Martin said.

Folly Beach County Park was nearly washed away by Hurricane Irene. Its sand dunes, the natural barrier from the rising tide, were flattened. It resulted in the boardwalk's destruction and pounds of sand on the parking lots.

"75 percent of the park is unusable," Park Manager Eric Stewart said Monday.

He spent most of the day in the middle of the mess, assessing the damage and organizing the clean up effort expected to begin on Tuesday.

"Today we're getting all of our equipment in place. We're getting tractors and backhoes, dumpster's brought up, organizing our manpower for the next couple days," he said.

Stewart stood on a mound of sand that he says once was a parking lot. Other damage included downed power and phone lines, debris spread along the park, and power and water line troubles.

"It's (the tide) pushed sand back. You can see it's all sand. This used to be all gravel," Stewart said.

The park manager says the 25 percent of the park that was not damaged is the shelter, which they rent out for events. He says they are working on keeping those events, including some upcoming weddings that have been booked.

Keep Out

The Stewart's kept their distance Monday when they walked by, but couldn't help but stare at the dilapidated building and the missing sand dunes, which they say used to almost cover the building.

"It's just flat now," Steven Martin said.

According to park officials, others have not kept their distance from the caution tape, which was meant to keep the public out.

"When they come across this, they see the damage, trying to encourage people not to get near here, definitely not to step on it," Stewart said.

He says there are still dangers like nails, loose cables, and an unsteady boardwalk. Park officials still don't know how long before they can re-open the park.

Park officials say they still aren't sure how much the clean up will cost.