When the Atlantic Ocean is your playground, going to a park may seem a prosaic destination by comparison.
Not so in Horry and Georgetown counties where parks outnumber golf courses and, dare it be said, also outshine them in variety.
There are seaside parks; woodland parks; marshland parks, parks with disc golf courses, baseball fields, playgrounds and tennis courts; parks with water features; and some with water creatures.
Phew, before this gets too Dr. Seussical, let’s look at the academic aspect of parks.
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“Parks enhance the quality of life,” said Foster Hughes, director of the City of Conway Parks, Recreation and Tourism. Albeit simply put, research supports his stance.
The Trust for Public Land stated in a report that “parks and open space improve our physical and psychological health, strengthen our communities, and make our cities and neighborhoods more attractive places to live and work.”
Said mental benefits come from the social component of parks. Per the American Planners Association, “They provide people with formal and informal gathering places to ... socialize, relax, build community and connect.”
That is something Richard Kirby, City of Myrtle Beach Parks superintendent, knows all about.
“They are places for spending time with your children, grandchildren and neighbors,” he said.
They are also a refreshing shoreline alternative.
“When the sun gets too hot or the wind too great, [a park is] a nice place to be,” said John Bullard, director of Parks and Recreation for the City of North Myrtle Beach.
So when you seek an alternative to the surf and sand, here are a few suggestions, from myriad choices.
Vereen Memorial Gardens
•Little River at the intersection of U.S. 17 and S.C. 179, just south of the North Carolina state line
At the right time of year, the azaleas will take your breath away, but on any given day, this 114-acre tract of woodland and salt marsh will afford you the feeling of having traveled back in time to experience this area pre-development.
The garden’s peace and natural beauty are transcendent, and its numerous walking trails feature wooden boardwalks, which extend across marshes, and are dotted with informational placards that offer insight to its residents, past and present, winged and two- and four-legged alike, and its history, both man and nature made.
Heritage Shores Nature Preserve
•North Myrtle Beach, Cherry Grove Section, 5611 Heritage Drive at 53rd Avenue
Your camera and binoculars are a must for possible sightings of ibis, heron, double-crested cormorants and kingfishers and for certain sightings of fiddler crabs and other fauna and flora of this salt marsh ecosystem. Although bordered by development, there are a number of spots where that “away from it all” feeling is not spoiled.
Located on an island, the park’s boardwalks extend into the Cherry Grove Marsh, and its trails are described as a “native soil primitive walk path[s].” Bear this in mind when making footwear selections – sneakers are fine but flip flops might not be fun.
•North Myrtle Beach, Oak Drive
If you cannot entertain yourself in this 10-acre park with a 2-acre lake, there may be no hope for you. This unexpected paradise, located two blocks west of the Boulevard in Ocean Drive, has something for every age, with two playgrounds, a fitness trail, tennis courts, a youth baseball field, a gazebo and a meditation garden.
With three reservable picnic shelters, it’s the perfect spot for family reunions, fundraisers and weddings. It’s also the spot to feed the ducks, enjoy a picnic lunch, let the kids run wild or just relax.
Barc parcs, north and south
•Myrtle Beach Barc Parc South Mallard Drive near The Market Common and Barc Park North is off 62nd Avenue North Extension.
“Our most popular parks are our dog parks,” said Kirby. “They are very heavily used.” He is not exaggerating in the least; morning and afternoon, these are probably some of the busiest places in town. The dog lovers seem to enjoy socializing just as much as the canines.
Both parks are fully fenced, and north features areas designated for large and small dogs.
Myrtle Beach Neighborhood Parks
•Myrtle Beach: Check www.cityofmyrtlebeach.com/recreation.html for other locations
Remember the “whoopsy daisy” scene in the Hugh Grant, Julia Roberts’s romantic comedy “Notting Hill” where the actors happen upon a quaint, green space nestled in the hubbub of the urban landscape?
Well if that appeals, you are in luck, because Myrtle Beach is dotted with a number of just such pastoral pockets. They are easiest to discover by bike or on foot, but easily found is the centrally located Holmes B. Springs (Ocean Boulevard between 45th and 46th avenues North). It’s a short walk for a shady respite from the beach, courtesy of the plethora of old growth live oaks.
•Conway, Second Avenue and Main Street
There is perhaps no more civilized activity than an afternoon promenade, and the tree-lined walk along the Waccamaw River is the perfect backdrop. You will happen upon lovely historic buildings, the Conway Arboretum and a playground en route to a riverside gazebo.
If this is too tame for you, consider renting one of the canoes at the City Marina for a more athletic and intimate river experience.
Either or both will be time well spent.
Hobcaw Point Pier
•Georgetown, off U.S. 17 on Church Street just east of the city
Whether it’s a fish or 40 winks you’re after, you could not ask for a more spectacular spot. Primarily known as a fishing hole, this old bridge also affords an amazing vantage point for exquisite photos of the beauty on, and around, the Pee Dee River.
The gazebo, at the tip of the bridge, is a perfect spot to take a rest, lose track of time and watch the boats go by.