In 2017, the Hunting Island State Park (HISP) manager asked Friends of Hunting Island (FOHI) to renovate the Visitor Center. A team of volunteers was formed to determine the best approach, and meetings were held with park staff, designers, and FOHI members. The team visited various parks and museums with similar educational goals. 

FOHI partnered with SCPRT (South Carolina Parks, Recreation and Tourism), the SC Department of Transportation (DOT), and several granting agencies, including Beaufort County Accommodations Tax, to fund the renovations to the building. These included removing the existing displays, wainscoting, and wallpaper; repairing and re-sheetrocking the walls; installing new electrical and lighting fixtures; removing the carpet and installing new hardwood flooring.

Phase One–2019–murals, sculptures, and displays

Once the walls were prepared, Aki Kato, a well-known Beaufort muralist known for his life-like paintings, began covering the walls with murals depicting the various ecosystems of Hunting Island: salt marsh, maritime forest, dunes, beach, and ocean. After the background landscape was painted, Aki added myriad animals living in these ecosystems. Visitors will enjoy the treasure hunt to spot all the different creatures Aki has included.

Classically-trained, Hilton Head sculptor, Kelly Richard, was commissioned to create six life-like sculptures commonly seen on Hunting Island—a wood stork, a bald eagle, an osprey, a pelican, a laughing gull, and the less commonly seen adult loggerhead turtle. The birds will fly into the room escaping the walls, and the turtle will be housed in a plexiglass display case.

Among the displays, built by Merlin Redfern, former Construction Director for FOHI, and Jack Blake, FOHI member, are the new lighthouse display in the lobby, the model of the Civilian Conservation Corps-built swing bridge, and the turtle display with dioramas of threats to sea turtles and stages of sea turtle life.

Finally, there are three video monitors added to the room. One is for longer films shown in the theater with a special sound system to contain the sound; a second will show the five short films about aspects of Hunting Island commissioned of Joanne Hock and Heidi Dove, award-winning filmmakers from Charlotte, NC; and a third that will show a continuous video of a morphing map of Hunting Island as it is reshaped over time. In addition, there will be background bird sounds continuously playing. The theater area will be separated from the main room by informative banners.

Phase Two–2020

To complete the room, the final piece—the Virtual Lighthouse—will be added in 2020. Many people cannot climb the lighthouse to see the magnificent views it offers. Children under 44” tall are not allowed to climb it. Malia Cooler, a long-time park staff member, suggested that a virtual lighthouse experience would be much welcomed by those visitors. 

Therefore, the team decided to build a reproduction of the top of the lighthouse in the room, and when visitors step inside they will be able to virtually climb the stairs, see the view at sunrise, mid-day, sunset, and dark of night. This project entails difficult filming from the top of the lighthouse, additional electronic equipment, and construction of a scaled-down version of the top of the lighthouse to hold it all. Dave Schmitt has been hired to build it.  

As the final pieces are in place in 2020, the FOHI Development and Communication Directors will undertake the marketing of the Visitor Center. The goal is to get more people to stop and see it and to get more people to visit Hunting Island. FOHI will help turn the Visitor Center into a destination point—a place for birthday parties and class outings—a wonderful experience for all ages. 

Friends of Hunting Island

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