Lack of money continues to delay Okatie nature park

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Lack of money continues to delay Okatie nature park

By MICHAEL WELLES SHAPIRO mshapiro@islandpacket.com 843-706-8142
Published Saturday, January 24, 2009 in The Island Packet  |  444 Words  |  news/local

Beaufort County first got the go-ahead to build a nature park on 160 acres near U.S. 278 and S.C. 170 in 2005.
More than three years later, the project hasn't gotten off the ground because the Beaufort County Council hasn't yet provided the money to build it.
The county bought the land parcel by parcel between 2000 and 2004 through its Rural and Critical Lands Program. The county then drew up a master plan to construct a park on the site, which straddles the headwaters of the Okatie River in Bluffton.
The town then approved plans in 2005 for what was dubbed the Okatie Regional Park, an extensive network of hiking and mountain-bike trails, a small camping area, a fishing pond and crabbing docks.
But with other park projects competing for county money, and a recent slowdown in revenue because of the economic downturn, the Okatie park was never built.
Tax dollars collected for the county's Rural and Critical Lands Program must be used to buy land "so the county has to find other resources for the park's development," said Glenn Stanford, a project manager at the Trust for Public Lands, the nonprofit preservation group that negotiated the purchases.
So far, the County Council has had other priorities.
"It's been somewhat out of mind for the last couple years for financial reasons," said County Councilman Jerry Stewart, whose district includes sections of the Okatie River.
Stewart said other park projects, including a new facility off Buckwalter Parkway, have taken precedent. That area has had an influx of new families in the past decade.
"There's such a need for recreation areas for kids, and that's been more important," he said.
Even without progress on the Okatie park, he said the land purchases are a positive because of the environmental sensitivity of the area near the river's headwaters. But, Stewart said, he'd still like to see the county move forward with the plan.
"Obviously it's something that would be beneficial," he said.
Though the Trust for Public Lands said there wasn't enough money to complete the project, they do have $250,000 that developers donated when they sold two of the parcels.
At the time the park initially was approved, a Trust for Public Lands official said that amount was only enough to pay for an access road, a parking lot and other improvements.
Now Stanford said the group is looking for ways to move forward, even without an additional infusion of county money.
"We've been trying to raise money," Stanford said, noting group also is considering a scaled back version of the original Okatie plan.