A gift that keeps giving – a state park pass

One gift really does keep on giving all year long across the Palmetto State, and it comes with a 20 percent discount through Dec. 31.

The S.C. Park Service and Piggly Wiggly have partnered to sell Park Passports, the annual passes that cover admission to 47 state parks and historic sites.

It’s as easy as buying a voucher at a Piggly Wiggly store and redeeming it for a pass at any state park, activating that pass for one year of use from that date.

For instance, the standard Park Passport costs $75, but with this deal through Piggly Wiggly, the charge drops to $60. The cost for a Park Passport Plus, which comes with some free benefits such as nature programs that otherwise incur small fees, and a copy of the “Beautiful Places” state-park coffee table book, decreased to $79.20 from $99.

Marion Edmonds, communications director for the S.C. Department of Parks, Recreation & Tourism in Columbia, said this teaming up of the park service and the New Hampshire-based grocery chain, whose S.C. division operates from Charleston, resulted from building on projects “on and off over the years.”

Question | How did this endeavor emerge?

Answer | The Park Passport has been such a successful program for us and it’s popular with the citizens, and officials at Piggly Wiggly said, “We could help sell those for you, as part of a Christmas promotion.” ... It applies to all the passports we have. ...

It made a good joint project for us, and the discount is nothing to sneeze at. That’s how I’m getting my gift Park Passports this year.

Q. | How do the three Park Passports differ?

A. | The hangtag for the car has always been the prototype. We started out with just a Park Passport, then added more options for people who want a little more or less.

The Park Passport Plus: It makes a nice gift, and it comes with a coffee table book. With the standard Park Passport, anybody who uses the parks with any regularity gets a great return on that.

The Inland Parl Passport: That’s for folks who really don’t get down to the coast, but use more of their local parks really often.

Q. | How do the Grand Strand’s own Myrtle Beach and Huntington Beach state parks hold up as hubs for visitors year round?

A. | At Myrtle Beach, the numbers are staggering. I remember from years ago when Myrtle Beach State Park was a ways from downtown. You’d go south and finally get to Springmaid Beach, then you had the Air Force base, then a little beyond that was Myrtle Beach State Park. To get to Huntington Beach, you had to leave Myrtle Beach and go through empty countryside for what seemed like forever. ... That’s what has turned out to be such an unintended blessing, when they saved two pieces of property.

Now Myrtle Beach State park is a treasure just a few minutes from downtown Myrtle Beach, and in Huntington Beach, you really do have the opportunity to decompress from what is becoming an increasingly developed area. Those two parks ... are continuing in high demand.

Q. | How heavy in visitation do the other two oceanfront parks, on the southeast corner of the state, near Beaufort and south of Charleston, remain?

A. | Hunting Island is one of our most visited parks. ... Edisto Beach, which is kind of a hidden treasure, it has much the feel of your local family beach, the one you’ve gone to every year over the years. It’s being discovered.

Q. | Which park leads the state in numbers through the gates? If Myrtle Beach is first, where is the runner-up?

A. | Sometimes Hunting Island is No. 1 in visitation. They are close to each other in numbers.

Q. | Just how quickly does a pass pay for itself for families?

A. | In my family, we had three kids growing up. You think about five people, if you have a family with two or three children. It doesn’t take but a few trips before you recover that cost, and it encourages people to come to our parks.

Q. | And the clock doesn’t start ticking on Park Passports’ year of use until a voucher purchased at a Piggly Wiggly is redeemed for the pass at a park gate?

A. | The nice thing about them is they’re good for a year ... so if you give a pass to somebody now, and they don’t go to the park in January or February, because of the weather or if they’re not here ... when they go and redeem it, they get a full year from then, when they begin to use it.