Myrtle Beach State Park is expecting more visitors than last year, when the popular destination welcomed nearly 1.5 million through its gates.
But whether the increase is tied to parking changes elsewhere along the Grand Strand remains unclear.
Parking activists, mainly from Horry County, have reported on social media and elsewhere that the state park is brimming with visitors as a direct result of the paid parking that was instituted last year in Myrtle Beach.
Jerry Ives, the manager of the state park, said the spring season has been strong because of a well-timed spring break season and pleasant weather. However, he said it’s hard to directly tie an increase in attendance with the parking changes.
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“I haven’t seen a huge amount of people coming in and saying ‘We’re going to Myrtle Beach State Park because this place or this place is doing this or that,’” Ives said.
In Myrtle Beach, visitors now have to pay $2 an hour or $10 a day to park at any lot by the beach, including those on the residential Golden Mile on the city’s north end.
That stretch is the one that most frustrates parking activists, and it is not included in a yearly $100 pass that lets non-city-residents park elsewhere. A $75 annual state park pass ensures entrance to any one of the state’s 47 parks.
Horry County Councilman Johnny Vaught, who represents part of Carolina Forest, said he’d heard from several people, including his neighbors, that county residents are headed to the state park.
When he goes to the beach, Vaught heads to another park in South Carolina’s system — Huntington Beach State Park, just south of Murrells Inlet.
“I have a camper and generally, I camp down there for a couple weeks a year,” he said.
Mark Kruea, spokesman for Myrtle Beach, said a lot of residential growth on the south end may have led to more visitors for the state park.
“It’s probably more tied to the growth of the Market Common than anything else,” he said.
But, he denied that an increase in attendance could be a result of parking policies.
“In the conversations or the emails that we’ve seen, that’s too far for the folk that are accustomed to going to the Golden Mile,” he said.
Rich Malzone, of the parking group Make Myrtle Beaches Free, Clean and Safe, said his family has a pass to the state parks. He rarely uses it, however, because he used to head to the beach for 30-minute walks.
Now, he said he walks to and from the pool in his neighborhood.
Ives said the park has been successful — it saw a roughly 8 percent increase in admissions revenue from 2015 to 2016 — because its facilities are well-maintained.
“We keep always improving our amenities. This past year, this past winter, we did a paving project, which was wonderful for the park,” Ives said. “We’ve done some improvements to our beach accesses and renovated our bathrooms.”
Malzone said he’d heard of many other people that enjoy the amenities at the state park like the bathrooms on the beach, which are not available along the Golden Mile.
But, he said, “They also realized that by going there, the people of the Golden Mile get the private beach they want.”