It’s a preserve that was years in the making.
In May, the city of North Myrtle Beach, with help from the community, the South Carolina Conservation Bank and the Ingram family, announced the purchase of more than seven acres of the Ingram Dunes for $2.5 million.
The dunes, a rare green space in the city east of U.S. 17 bordered by 9th and 10th avenues south, Hillside Drive and Strand Avenue, were formed more than 10,000 years ago. Generations of residents have enjoyed time among the birds and the trees, seeking solace from the surrounding development. And now, the dunes are officially open to the public.
“When you go into here, there is a peace that you find that’s palpable,” said Damien Triouleyre, who headed up the Preserve Ingram Dunes organization that helped raise money from the community to support the city’s purchase. “It’s a quiet and a peace that’s stronger than just the nature here.”
When Triouleyre found out the dunes would be developed, he began organizing the community to stop the scenic area from being bulldozed.
“I just felt ‘There’s no way that can happen,’” he said. “These dunes are so important, they must be saved. I got a conviction deep inside that that had to happen, so that sustained me. But I got a lot of help from inside, and above.”
Early discussions for the property were unsuccessful, with the city unable to come up with enough money to satisfy the landowners, who wanted $3.1 million for the entire tract.
But Hillside Development LLC came up with the idea to sell to the city more than seven acres of the dunes while keeping two acres for development along Strand Avenue.
With the Ingram family agreeing to front more than half the money, the city made the deal.
The Ingram family contributed $1.4 million, with $500,000 from the city, $500,000 from the South Carolina Conservation Bank, and the rest from donations.
“It’s been in our family for over 70 years,” said Elizabeth Anderson, the granddaughter of Charles Ingram. “My grandfather developed a portion of the beach called Ingram Beach as a fairly young individual. This is part of the property that’s left. It’s a beautiful, pristine parcel of property and we’re thankful that it has been saved.
“The dunes have been a recreational area for people for a long time; it had never been designated as such. And with the help of the city, the South Carolina Land Conservation Bank, individuals, and our family, we all came together and thought it would be a good idea to save it.”
On Thursday, North Myrtle held its grand opening for the Ingram Dunes Natural Area. The city will keep the land as natural as possible, while maintaining the trails within the seven acres.
“It’s just a gorgeous environment all to itself,” said Parks and Recreation Director John Bullard. “It will remain passive. We have trails, so someone can just get in an enjoy that. We’ll put some interpretive signs in that will identify the trees.”
There were plenty of ups and downs along the road to purchasing to the dunes, said Mayor Marilyn Hatley.
“These are absolutely beautiful dunes and it’s a beautiful piece of property,” she said. “But just because you want something, it doesn’t always happen. And as I told them, ‘It’s not going to happen overnight because it takes time. And the only way it can be done is through partnerships.’ So we started working with that.”
City Manager Mike Mahaney credited one of the city’s grant-writers with being instrumental in getting a $510,000 grant. It was later brought down to $500,000 when the city purchased just over seven acres instead of the original 9.35 acres.
“Kristine Stokes, she’s our grants person, and so she was heavily involved in putting together the application that we sent to the conservation bank,” Mahaney said. “But it was really a team effort trying to get to ‘yes’ and exploring options with Jim Anderson (Elizabeth Anderson’s husband), looking at tax advantages and that sort of thing. It’s a win for everybody.”
It was the first grant the conservation bank had made in Horry County since fiscal year 2012-13, and, after the acreage was reduced to just over seven acres, represented an investment of about $70,000 per acre.
The grant application classified Ingram Dunes as a woodlands or forested area, and between the 2004 and 2017, the bank had spent less than $500 per acre on protecting lands under that classification.
Officials said at the time of the grant that the low average investment per acre was a big reason why the conservation bank awarded the city $510,000 instead of the $2.5 million the city had initially asked for.
“We’ve done a number of agricultural conservation easements on the western side of the county, but this is one of our first grants in the more urbanized beach area,” said Raleigh West, who was named director of the conservation bank after the grant was made. “It had a lot of local support, it had a lot of financial leverage — other partners contributing to the project — [it] had public access and we were happy to help save this unique piece of property."
Amy Armstrong, executive director of the South Carolina Environmental Law Project, had at one point intervened by asking DHEC to reconsider allowing development. She said it was “heartwarming” to finally see the dunes protected.
“I’m thrilled,” Armstrong said. “The mayor said it really well. We need places where we can go and get a reprieve, a break from our stressful lives, from our work and family and all the things that cause stress and get us anxious, and being out in nature is something that is good for the soul.”
Both Hatley and Triouleyre said that the purchase wouldn’t have been possible without support from the community, and in her speech, the mayor called out some of the biggest donors to the cause.
Jane Vernon and Triouleyre each gave $10,000, with Triouleyre raising another $6,039 on his website. The North Myrtle Beach Historic and Preservation Society raised $12,190 for the dunes.
In total, the city received 71 donations from the public ranging from $10 to more than $16,000.
Hatley said donors who gave $5,000 included Anne Elliot, Rick Elliot, Sara Floyd, Donna Shealy, Allison Wilson and perhaps North Myrtle Beach’s most famous celebrity, Vanna White.
“I don’t foresee the city ever selling this piece of property,” Hatley said. “We’re just happy that we can preserve this piece of property for the people who live here now and for the people who will move here in the future.”