When my family and I relocated to South Carolina from New England, one of the most celebrated attractions of the Midlands was a manmade body of water named Lake Murray. Boasting more than 650 miles of shoreline, I expected this 50,000 acre "Jewel of the Midlands" to provide it's residents with endless access to beaches and lakeside parks. Much to our surprise, the only public beach that could be reached by land was on the Lexington side of the Lake Murray Dam (its official name being the Dreher Shoals Dam.) To make matters even worse, our ill-timed arrival to the Midlands came only months prior to the entire world shutting down for the next two years. Owned and operated by Dominion Energy, the power mammoth decided not to open Lake Murray Public Park in the summer of 2020...and then again, the summer of 2021.
After two grueling years of anticipation, we were elated when Dominion broke the news that the park would reopen for the 2022 season. That summer, we had friends visiting us from New England, and we eagerly seized the opportunity to share our first experience of the park with them. Much to our disappointment, we were underwhelmed by the miniscule amount of shoreline, rocky ground conditions that made it difficult for our kids to comfortably play in the water, and fly infested beach area. The covered picnic area had been well maintained, with grills in working order, and clean restrooms, we still found the location suboptimal for families with children.
Fast-forward to 2023, we heard some exciting news for Lake Murray residents. To set the scene, let's travel back to the 1960's when South Carolina Electric & Gas (SCE&G) was the resident power company. The company set up Pine Island as a private, members only club for it's employees and their families. What was once one of the hottest spots on the lake, the Island boasted a clubhouse, shelters, picnic tables, grilling areas, swimming area, two playgrounds, tennis and volleyball courts, boat ramps, pool, marina, and numerous other amenities. When Dominion Energy acquired SCE&G in 2019, the 27-acre, $9.5 million private island was part of the deal.
In 2008 SCE&G began a $9 billion nuclear plant expansion. The project seemed doom to fail from the get go, as it way plagued by endless delays, lawsuits, and criminal charges. Having spent more than $10.4 billion in construction and interest on the project, a new analysis indicated that the project would not be finished until 2024 at a total cost of more than $25 billion. Ultimately, the project was abandoned in July of 2017, and to date, it is still widely considered South Carolina's most expensive business failure. In an attempt to to help pay off hundreds of millions in back-owed taxes as a result of the failed project, current owner Dominion Energy will transfer four of it's properties to the S.C. Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism. If you have made it this far into the story, you can probably guess the outcome. The once private, members-only Pine Island will be South Carolina's first new State Park in two decades...and also it's smallest. Opened in 2006, H. Cooper Black Memorial Park, located in Chesterfield County, was the State's last park to open.
With it's existing structures and amenities, officials remain optimistic that Pine Island will not take long to transform into the next public hotspot on Lake Murray. Accessible by boat and a causeway, neighbors of Pine Island neighbors remain unconvinced that the island can handle a larger volume of traffic that a state park could draw. This blog will be updated as the story evolves.