New Horry County rec centers see steady use

Roy Bennett appreciates two things about the South Strand Recreation Center – it’s free and it’s within a mile-and-a-half of his Baywood Estates home.

The 72-year-old visits the rec center at least three times a week to do 32 laps on its indoor track. That equals two miles of walking.

After his Friday walk, Bennett was out of breath but clearly reinvigorated from his stroll.

“The track is very comfortable to walk on,” he said.

By all accounts, satisfied customers like Bennett and the burgeoning number of youth programs are great news for the Horry County Parks and Recreation department after opening two new multi-million dollar recreation centers in the last year.

In addition to the South Strand facility – located off Scipio Lane near Murrells Inlet – there is a recreation center in Carolina Forest.

“We’ve had a very good response. Had quite a bit of activity going on since they opened,” said Brent Taylor, director of county parks and recreation.

Both facilities cost around $5 million apiece to build and feature virtually the same amenities like the indoor track, basketball court and exercise rooms.

At South Strand, the center has given rise to a number of youth sports programs such as basketball and volleyball, Taylor said.

There are 500 players taking part in the basketball program, Taylor said, and another 200 for volleyball. Additionally, around 250 children took part in the center’s 10-week summer youth camp.

Those figures don’t even take into account the 50 to 100 people, like Bennett, who come out to South Strand just to shoot a few hoops or walk a few laps.

“We felt like we could have added more,” Taylor said.

Rita Manke takes one hour out of her day to come to South Strand for some recreation time.

Decked out in red hospital scrubs, Manke was pushing her smiling 4-year-old daughter, Kori, in the swings during a recent visit on a beautiful fall morning.

Proximity is definitely a selling point for Manke.

“It’s within walking distance,” she said.

Over at Carolina Forest, they’re seeing a lot of same trends.

The big difference, Taylor said, is that there were lots of established programs housed at surrounding schools that migrated to the rec center once it opened.

Carolina Forest’s basketball program has roughly 400 participants, while 150 turn out for volleyball.

“I think the library being open has brought in some new customers,” said Jason Burton, district supervisor for the Carolina Forest center.

The library just opened its doors this summer and it shares the same parking lot as the rec center.

Burton is also excited about the new flag football program they’re starting at Carolina Forest.

But it’s not all sports. The facility can also be rented for birthday parties and even wedding receptions.

As far as expansion at both the facilities, Taylor said it’s in the cards. There’s also an overall second-level comprehensive plan which includes building rec centers in Aynor, Green Sea Floyds and Loris.

Right now, there’s no timetable for those.

“We have plans. We don’t have funding,” Taylor said.