By Gray Bostick
In a rut? Same old day-in/day-out routine getting you down? Need a break from the mundane, an interruption of the monotony sometimes imposed upon us by the modern lives we lead?
Lucky you. The Palmetto State offers a multitude of opportunities to get away, relax, and recuperate from the rat race. And the Pee Dee is especially blessed, with the Atlantic coast a short jaunt away and the glorious Blue Ridge Mountains just a bit further to our northwest.
But if you’re looking for a true get-away, that shut-down, turn-it-all-off kind of spot to take a day to decompress and regain your grip on life in general, then the choice is clear: Grab a chair, fill a cooler, snag some sunscreen, a good pair of sunshades and a couple towels, then chart a course east for Huntington Beach State Park.
On paper, Huntington Beach SP is a simple piece of land of approximately 2,500 acres located just south of Murrells Inlet. But in reality it is much, much more. It is, in fact, a sequestered jewel, as removed from the nonstop, hurry-up-and-wait, hustle and bustle of perpetually busy Highway 17, running just outside its gates, as an island would be.
And Huntington Beach serves not only as a sanctuary for wildlife, but also as a human hideaway, a place where one might find some missing mental stability, a spot to perhaps regain a little lost sanity, get a fresh grip on life.
Huntington offers visitors of all interests a virtual smorgasbord of activities from which to choose, ranging from exploring nature via one of the many boardwalks extending out into the salt marsh or around the freshwater lagoon, or hiking the two-mile long Sandpiper Trail, to setting up a station and stretching out on the strand to the sounds of the surf for some serious South Carolina-style lay-back.
An additional and unique activity to Huntington is visiting and exploring “Atalaya” castle, the picturesque Moorish and Mediterranean Revival-styled winter home of industrialist Archer M. Huntington and his wife, noted sculptor Anna Hyatt Huntington, many of whose works now grace nearby Brookgreen Gardens. A fascinating structure, “Atalaya” was built during the Great Depression – reportedly without plans and, at Huntington’s insistence, by local labor in order to provide local jobs – and was constructed to be hurricane-proof. “Atalaya” still boasts of many fascinating features, such as holding pens to model animals Mrs. Huntington was sculpting and the original hand-wrought iron grills over windows that she designed, and is sure to prove of interest to any who venture to tour it. Another interesting bit of “Atalaya” history is its use, again at Huntington’s insistence, by the Army Air Corps from 1942 until 1946.
And “Atalaya” continues to serve today, hosting the annual Atalaya Arts and Crafts Festival, a three-day event in late September that features over 100 artists and craftsmen who display their wares against the background of Huntington’s natural beauty, while attendees enjoy the celebration with music, food, folks, and fun, as well as home for the popular “Haunted House” Halloween festivities. In addition, it is frequently rented for private affairs, and is a popular spot for coastal weddings
But as remarkable and versatile a structure as “Atalaya” is, it is the outside world that draws most folks to Huntington Beach – from all along the Eastern Seaboard and on into Canada, in fact, as evidenced by the license plates of cars during a recent week-day visit.
Many of those are repeat-visitor birding enthusiasts, drawn to one of the premier birding sites along the east coast, with sightings of over 300 species having been recorded here. But it doesn’t stop there. Huntington far exceeds its mission component of serving as a refuge for wildlife and offering protection to nature, as they also serve the natural world up on a platter with a multitude of viewing spots from which one might spot not only birds such as roseate spoonbills, egrets, herons, and other waders or ducks, but also critters such as alligators, minks, or, possibly, a nesting loggerhead sea turtle.
And speaking of the saltwater loggerhead…aaah, the ocean. For many visitors it is where the land meets the sea that makes Huntington such a treasure, and its expansive and relatively uncrowded 3-mile long stretch of bright sand makes for an ideal spot to frolic in the waves, do a little fishing, jog the shoreline, walk the beach for seashells, or to just sit quietly and await the peace that the sound of surf almost always delivers. Even better, Huntington is also pet-friendly, with dogs welcome year-round and allowed on the South Beach area as long as they are leashed to protect other beach-goers.
However, while many who frequent Huntington and think of it as only a favorite spot for one-day activities such as enjoying its outstanding beach or natural world offerings, it also boasts over 100 campsites, many with full water, sewer, and electrical hookups, as well as six walk-in sites dedicated to tent camping only, which allows for interested parties to stay in the park for days or even weeks if they wish.
Huntington Beach also boasts a year-round Park Store/Gift Shop that offers a limited supply of snacks, groceries and cold drinks – plus an air conditioned break from that hot South Carolina sun – in addition to a surprisingly wide variety of T-shirts and other HBSP branded items. Additionally, there are also ample outdoor post-swim showers to rinse the saltwater off, easily accessible bathroom and changing facilities, and picnic shelters – fine for a couple picnicking, or a couple dozen kids on one of the frequent school-related educational field trips – scattered throughout the park to provide shade or protection from the sun or a sudden shower.
In short, Huntington comes mighty close to the perfect spot from which to seek a respite from the rest of the world, and a reset on life. And if it’s not the perfect spot, well I’d bet if you squint just a little you could see from there.
So do yourself a favor: Bust your schedule and make an appointment WITH yourself and yours for a change, then navigate the land yacht eastward to Huntington Beach State Park for a day-trip to beat most trips. Whether to watch the birds fly past, the clouds sail over, the surf roll in, or to just let life ease on by, HBSP has a spot saved for you.
Hurry down and claim yours.