Most days, Kala Curtis makes the trip from her River Landing apartment to the Horry County Bike and Run Park.
That’s where she jogs the trails with her boyfriend and their lab mix, Bailey. They like exercising outdoors, and so the prospect of the county taking over a nearby property for a park appeals to them.
“A lot of people that exercise already come here a lot,” she said of the bike and run park, which covers nearly 77 acres and features seven miles of trails. “That would be amazing, especially with COVID happening too. [People are] not wanting to go into an indoor gym. Something outside? That would be really, really cool.”
On Tuesday afternoon, the county's Parks and Open Space Board will discuss the possibility of the county acquiring nearly 50 acres for a Carolina Forest park. The park idea is not new — the property has been under a conservation easement since 2016 and is already open to the public — but several years ago the landowner approached the county about donating the site after a nearby development was complete.
Now that possibility is closer to becoming reality.
This site is often called Queen’s Cove Park, but county officials have recommended changing the name to Carolina Forest Nature Park (Horry County Council would ultimately make that decision).
The property is accessible from the frontage road that runs beside the bike park and underneath Robert Grissom Parkway. The land is on the same side of the road as the park, just past Robert Grissom. The property already has some walking trails, a pond, woods, a parking area and a grassy field, though it does not include the docks on the banks of the Intracoastal Waterway. County officials said it’s still too early to say what amenities would be added there, but the county could build picnic shelters, carve out more trails or build other facilities that promote passive recreation.
For the county to accept the donated land, the proposal must go before the county’s Parks and Open Space Board. Once that board makes its recommendation, the proposal then goes to the county’s planning commission for review, then to county council for a final decision.
The Queen's Cove proposal is in line with the county's draft plan for parks and open space. That document calls for expanding the bike and run park by offering other types of recreation there, adding trails, expanding parking and increasing space to host larger events. There's already a connection from the bike and run park to the Queen's Cove property.
The county's plan outlines $715,000 in needed upgrades to the bike and run park, including adding an obstacle and ropes course, a climbing wall and outdoor fitness equipment.
During Tuesday's meeting, the parks board expects to discuss recent changes to the county’s parks and open space plan. The latest version calls for more than $161 million worth of parks and recreation projects.
Although there is no funding allocated for most of them, county officials have said it’s important to have the plan in place so they can pursue grants for some of that infrastructure.
Tuesday's discussion also highlights the challenges facing the county’s recreation funding.
Horry County Council members have not come up with a long-term funding strategy to sustain those facilities and services.
This year’s COVID-19-strained budget pulled from reserve funding just to keep the parks and recreation account out of the red. Those struggles also came up during last month’s Parks and Open Space Board meeting when board members talked about the lack of funding for long-promised recreation centers in western Horry.
“If I lived in Aynor or Loris, at my age I wouldn’t expect to live long enough to ever see those projects happen,” said board member Kevin Kiely, adding that building new rec centers here in the next three to four years “is as likely as snow in Miami on July 4.”
Some board members questioned whether impact fees — one-time levies on new construction — could help pay for recreation infrastructure. Council members have discussed implementing those fees, but they’ve tabled that debate, and it’s unclear when they will take it up again.
County officials said the new parks and open space plan doesn’t mandate impact fees, though it does mention them.
“The plans do not say, ‘Council needs to adopt impact fees,’” said Ashley Cowen, a senior planner with county, speaking to the board last month. “The plans do not say, ‘The county needs to implement impact fees.’ The plans say we should consider them as a potential funding source. And that is the bottom line. … It’s not going to say, ‘You have to do this.’”
While questions surround the county’s long-term parks goals, the prospect of adding recreation land in a growing suburban area is encouraging to those who appreciate the outdoors.
Curtis said she’d like to seen an outdoor obstacle course, something she’s appreciated in Virginia, California and Florida. Her boyfriend, Edgar Rivas, wouldn’t mind if Queen's Cove Park ends up looking like the nearby bike and run park, one of the few areas in Horry available for mountain biking.
“These trails are pretty nice,” he said.
CORRECTION: The proposed park property does include some waterfront land but it does not include any docks on the Intracoastal Waterway.