MURRELLS INLET, SC (WBTW) – Huntington Beach State Park is getting a brand new nature center after their last one was destroyed in a lightning strike fire three years ago.
The nature center will be $1.2 million and community members and park rangers have had an emotional connection to the center for years.
“Everyday I come down, I see something new,” said Huntington Beach State Park Interpretive Park Ranger Mike Walker on the construction of the new nature center.
For Walker, seeing the progress on Huntington Beach State Park’s new nature center reminds him why he began working for the state park to begin with – to be a part of the nature center.
“They actually began on the site clearing, preparing the site for construction, back like around the first week in July, and a couple weeks later, drove the pilings, and it’s progressing along quite quickly,” he said.
Walker says the new nature center should open in the Spring of 2020, and it will have the same exhibits the old $880,000 nature center had.
He says the original location is still perfect for bald eagle watching and it’s right next to the marshwalk.
“The old nature center was a pretty, I thought it was an ideal nature center,” he said. “It wasn’t too big, it wasn’t too small, it was just the right size, and the design of the building worked out great. So, we’re keeping fairly much the original plans and the original location.”
A strong lightning strike hit the old nature center, built in 2002, causing a fire that burnt it to the ground.
Dozens of animals, mostly marine animals, died in the flames.
“Some of the hardest ones to bury were the snakes,” said Walker. “Cornelius the cornsnake, I personally had that snake 20 years, so that was quite heartbreaking.”
Money for the new nature center’s exhibits was donated by several small groups and individual private donations to the Friends of Huntington Beach State Park group.
For those who donated and who have visited the park for years, Walker says they’re looking forward to the ribbon cutting.
“I know for literally hundreds of our visitors, it was the very first time they ever held a snake, and were able to get over their fear,” he said. “So, that was something that the nature center did, helped with quite a bit, was help people overcome their fear of certain animals and nature.”
Walker says the new nature center will have a lightning suppression system to help the state park avoid tragedies like the one they faced three years ago.