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June 16, 2014

Colors of the wind cue extra safety reminders at Myrtle Beach-area state parks

“Colors of the Wind” was more than a hit song that Vanessa Williams made famous from the mid-1990s Disney movie “Pocahontas.”

“Colors of the Wind” was more than a hit song that Vanessa Williams made famous from the mid-1990s Disney movie “Pocahontas.”

The ocean breeze has helped add some extra safety reminders this spring for visitors to Myrtle Beach and Huntington Beach state parks, through a series of flags, which by color, reflect the ocean conditions along the shore. They might even be considered an extension in the integral role that lifeguards play with their eyes across the sands and surf, as the flags catch the view of swimmers and sun lovers hitting the beach.

A windy day might be a “red flag day,” as Ann Malys Wilson, Myrtle Beach State Park’s senior interpretive ranger, would say.

The hues of the flags, with red denoting either of the two highest hazards, yellow as medium, green as low, and blue for dangerous marine life, such as jellyfish, are posted in multiple places beyond the admissions gate of each park as well.

With schools letting out for the summer, and the heavy tourism season ready to flow across the Grand Strand, the flags’ unfurling comes at an opportune time for increased visibility and awareness about safety and the nonstop reverence the ocean commands and warrants at any time of year. Park traffic increases mightily for summer, just like the slew of nature programs available at each place for vacationers and local residents alike (see the lists nearby).

Gerald Ives, a longtime state parks ranger and director of Myrtle Beach State Park – where projects to refurbish the pier store building and Cabin 1, a Civilian Conservation Corps cabin built in the 1930s, were completed earlier this year, and eight “Animal Action” game signs were posted across the park’s three playgrounds – said he appreciates parkgoers’ interest in, and attention to, the flag signals, all put into place as of May 1. He said they also follow suit with other safety flag systems in place across Horry County in beach patrol services.

Question | How has reception been to this flag alert system and the descriptions of each color?

Answer | Wonderful. What really encourages me is I see people reading the signs. That’s what the whole entire flag system is about. It’s about education for the public. You see people reading them, and people asking questions, “Why is it yellow?” or “Why is it red?” We want people to ask those questions.

Q. | What new part do the flag alerts give in the whole equation of emphasizing safety for everyone?

A. | It’s kind of a cumulative effort. ... We’re always looking for ways to better educate our visitors. ...

The flags are very, very visible. That’s the great thing about the flag system; it’s the first thing people notice when they come to the parks. It just makes them better informed so when they go to the beach, they’re safer.

Q. | What flag has flown the most of late?

A. | Yellow – kind of middle of the pack. What’s interesting about the ocean is it always seems calm in the morning, then usually in mid-afternoon or in mid-day, the wind shifts. Also, when the tides change or the winds shift, and when the currents change, the ocean conditions can change on a whim. We’ve had to put the red flag out quite a bit in middays, when that sea breeze shifts.

Q. | What else comes with the turf of helping managing one of these two treasures we have in both state parks along the Grand Strand?

A. | I’m here every day, interacting with the visitors, and it’s truly a great feeling to hear how wonderful ... and beautiful the park is. A gentleman from Pennsylvania stopped me the other day, and it was the first time he has been here. He said he has been vacationing here for years ... and he said, “I can’t believe I missed this.” It makes me feel good ... and we want to encourage people to be safe.

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