Originally created 01/29/97

South Carolina may give up three Thurmond Lake parks



MCCORMICK, S.C. - Three state parks along Thurmond Lake could be privatized or converted to local parks under a longterm reorganization within South Carolina's Parks, Recreation & Tourism Department.

"We have very limited financial resources," said state PRT Director Grace Young. "We need to diversity and place those resources in what is truly a state-significant effort."

As part of a nine-month evaluation of 48 state parks and eight historic sites, Hickory Knob State Resort Park was among two areas identified for privatization, she said Tuesday. Hartwell State Park is the other.

"With Hickory Knob, we think there's tremendous opportunity for the private sector," she said. "It can handle lots of visitors, it has land mass and infrastructure."

PRT, which is being renamed the S.C. State Park Service, will seek partnerships with development firms willing to invest the capital to use Hickory Knob to its full potential.

"We'd like to see additional accommodations and expanded conference capacity," she said. "We know that if we continue to wait on state monies, we're going to miss opportunities with that facility."

About a dozen smaller parks have been identified for conversion to local or county parks. They include Hamilton Branch and Baker Creek state parks in McCormick County.

Such properties have limited visitor draw and are predominantly of local interest, Ms. Young said. "They just are not what we term a `state park."'

There is no timetable for converting those parks to county or local facilities, she said, and no decisions have been made.

"We'll sit down with local communities and let them help us make decisions," she said. "It may be they want to use the property for some other activity. Each one will evaluated on its own and each will be different."

The redirected efforts will enable state resources to be focused more in "signature parks" with widespread interest and unique natural or cultural resources, such as Hunting Island on the coast, she said.

The changes could boost tourism at Hickory Knob, but likely will reduce visitation at the smaller parks, said Nancy Lindroth, executive director of the McCormick Chamber of Commerce and vice-chairman of the County Council.

"It appears to be a well thought-out strategic plan," said "Ms. Young has said they have no intention of closing any parks, and they want to work with the local communities."

However, one concern is that the county cannot afford to market the smaller parks the way state authorities and tourism officials can. "If you don't advertise, people don't know they're there."