MURRELLS INLET, S.C. (WBTW) — A new nature center at Huntington Beach State Park opened on Friday after a lightning-ignited fire destroyed the building in 2016.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony unveiled the four-year work-in-progress it took to rebuild the new center. For park rangers, employees, beach photographers, families, and guests celebrating the grand opening, they say the nature center is among the park’s most valuable assets.
Among a group of hopeful nature enthusiasts is Sandra Barnes. The beauty of the nature center goes beyond her camera lens.
“I knew that one day this would be back again,” Sandra Barnes, the former President of Friends of Huntington Beach State Parker and nature center photographer, said.
Since 2006, her photography inspiration comes from scenes surrounding the nature center. Barnes was taking photos of the nature center the day after the fire.
“It was devastating. I mean, I’ll be honest, I cried, all the animals that were lost…,” Barnes said.
She stood in front of the destruction four summers ago, helped fundraise for the rebuilding, and stands before the final touches on Friday.
“It just means everything to me. I just love it here,” Barnes said.
She’s snapped thousands of pictures at the nature center and served as President of the Friends of Huntington Beach State Park group that helped raise nearly $100,000 towards the new building.
The director of South Carolina’s Department of Parks, Recreation & Tourism, park managers and rangers, and others who made contributions to the new building were also apart of the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
The new building is filled with interactive displays and touch tanks overlooking the scenic marsh view. Unlike traditional tanks, guests are encouraged to touch and learn about different species found in one may find in local waters.
Park managers say it’s an identical building to the old one but this one was built with a lightning rod to avoid a similar tragedy years ago.
“A lot of the building is similar because it worked so well and served the community so well but I think everyone is drawn to the touch tank right now there is a stingray and horseshoe crab and what else will be in will vary seasonally and what they can catch out of the salt marsh, Brenda Magers, state park manager, said.
The nature center is more than a building to several people who showed up at the grand opening.
“It’s a place to make memories where people can connect with nature, its a place for visitors to get oriented with the park to see what it has to offer, so they know how to invest their time,” Magers said.
While Barnes says her old memories of the original nature center can’t be replaced…
“But… it will… eventually, it will get back and the people will love it and I think it would just be a great place again,” Barnes said.
Starting Friday, September 25, the new nature center will be open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 PM.