22 23 www.htcinc.net | Spring 2017 Spring 2017 | www.htcinc.net HUNTINGTON BEACH STATE PARK 16148 Ocean Hwy. Murrells Inlet, SC 29576 843-237-4440 www.southcarolinaparks.com/ huntingtonbeach Cost: $5 for adults; $3.25 for SC seniors; $3 for youth. Atalaya additional $2 per person. OYSTER LANDING Just north of Applegate Court on the ocean side of Hwy. 17 in Murrells Inlet. No cost. OYSTER LANDING If you dare to venture off the beaten path just north of Huntington Beach State Park, you will come across a half-hidden entryway to what locals have dubbed “Oyster Landing.” To an outsider, it may appear to be nothing more than a narrow road and a pile of discarded oyster shells. For those who traverse the entire length of the potholed, one-way lane, it may look like an oyster shell recycling area followed by a small boat landing. For me, it was nothing short of a sanctuary. This oft-overlooked bank is where I fell in pluff mud and stood up completely in love with it. It’s where I learned how to throw a cast net, chased numerous fiddler crabs and first saw a baby squid ink in terror. The shallow marsh is ideal for putting in small watercraft, so it’s where we would pile my family of four into our red canoe and push off. Mom paddled away at the bow, my sister and I sat cross-legged in the belly of the canoe, and Dad at the stern bore the brunt of the work — I contributed absolutely nothing except to offer him a face full of water every time I lifted my paddle to the other side. My thick-soled water shoes announced my deep- rooted (and not totally unjustified) fear of slicing my feet on oyster shells — another personality quirk born of these waters that has held strong to this day. Despite those threatening delicacies, Oyster Landing is a haven for wildlife and all five of your senses. THE BEACH Whether you’re partial to the pier at Surfside Beach, the energy of North Myrtle Beach or the peaceful seclusion of Pawleys Island, any beach along the Grand Strand could stand on its own in a “Top Beaches in the Nation” list. Beyond being my family’s go-to weekend destination, the beach was my stage, my gymnastics mat, my laboratory and my playground. Amidst this magnificent backdrop, I was a renowned chef of jellyfish-sand stew; I was queen of the dribble castle, protected by carefully constructed moats and trenches; I was keeper of the bait fish, giving each a name before promptly forgetting whether that one was Spot or Arthur. The waves were both awe-inspiring and terrifying to someone my size, and from them I learned perseverance — not just because of their tireless, persistent fold onto the shore day in and day out; rather, it was the singular feeling of panic that follows getting violently slammed underwater by a powerful beast. The waves would not so much push me as swallow me whole. Though I might lose my sense of direction, get a nose full of saltwater and find my knees raw with sand burn, all it took was a cough and a quick snuggle with my towel before I was racing back out to catch the next one. It was no Everest, but it was mine. It fostered my adventurous spirit and formed one fearless little girl. This is the beach that taught me to dream. It was here that I learned that the bounds of my imagination were my only limitations to what I could achieve — what I could be. That wasn’t a seashell; it was a dinner plate for my mermaid friends. That wasn’t a boogie board; it was a great white stallion named Star that I rode bravely into the unknown. Armed with stale bread atop my father’s shoulders, I wasn’t just another nuisance attracting seagulls — I was Carlie, The Amazing Bird-feeding WOMAAAAAAN! It’s easy to romanticize a childhood spent on an island, and maybe even cliché — but it’s cliché for a reason. I’ve had love affairs with Manhattan. I flirted with Seattle. And sure, I’ve let Arezzo, London and Strasbourg woo me, too. Still, it’s the smell in the air here that gives me the strongest sense of place — where I know exactly who I am. Because even if I get my heart broken or don’t get that promotion, the sun will continue to rise in the east. The tide will ebb and flow. Life will go on. It takes a special kind of place to elicit a feeling that strong. But what can I say? There must be something in the water. AND I HAVE A FEELING IT’S SALT. HUNTINGTON BEACH STATE PARK Originally the winter home of Archer and Anna Hyatt Huntington, this coastal park is now host to thousands of birds, fish, alligators and, since its public opening in 1960, tourists. At 2,500 acres, Huntington Beach State Park is a sprawling, sparkling gem of the Grand Strand. Its wild beauty is impossible to bottle, manufacture or replicate. My heart sank with the Education Center when it fell victim to fire last summer. I spent countless afternoons there marveling over the wildlife on display, reading about fish indigenous to the surrounding waters and tickling horseshoe crabs in the touch tank. Its adjoining dock is where I pretended to crab — I was far too repulsed by the raw chicken used as bait to actually claim the title of crabber — and where I saw a six-foot alligator stake his claim ON the dock when the tide rose so high that it was flush with the wood planks. While I loved poking silky stingray in the Education Center and riding my bike for miles, Atalaya Castle is undoubtedly the property’s crowning glory. It was the physical hub for my kingdom as a little girl — the only proof I needed that I was, indeed, a princess. Anna’s long-vacated art studio acted as my ballroom, her former servant quarters my jungle gym. My mind was encouraged to roam free in Huntington, where fun and education are often indiscernible. If you haven’t yet been, you’re missing out. For me, it was nothing short of a sanctuary. Images provided by Carlie Mills.