September 2016

Celebrate Hilton Head: A Decade of Change

Author: Kitty Bartell

The passage of time is celebrated as an anniversary. The passage of distance is celebrated as a milestone. Ten years ago, when Celebrate Hilton Head magazine—now CH2 and CB2 magazine—first laid ink to paper and started their Lowcountry publishing journey, the world was moving at a pretty wicked clip, which has provided the magazine with markers from which to reminisce and celebrate both the passages of time and distance of their sojourn.

A lot can change in a decade. If you were messaging on your Blackberry and admiring celebrities who did yoga in 2006, by 2016, you operate from an iPhone or Droid and yoga is part of your own everyday life. Myspace, the newest social media outlet in 2006 has since been swallowed up by Facebook, which some say is on its way to Neverland, to be replaced by who knows what. And the first Tweet was sent via Twitter in 2006, establishing the hashtag as a here-to-stay custom with no end in sight. #CH2, #CB2, #HiltonHeadIsland, #letsgotothebeach.

Just why do visitors come to Hilton Head Island? Not much has changed in a decade: the beach, biking, golf and tennis, the restaurants, shopping, rest, rejuvenation, reconnection. However, in 2016, Travel & Leisure magazine ranked Hilton Head as the number one island in the continental U.S. and the eighth best island in the world; not necessarily changing the “why” folks come, but certainly changing the “where” visitors are coming from. Now a world-renowned destination, Hilton Head Island is drawing guests and new residents from Atlanta to Akron, from Great Britain to Venezuela; families from Ohio are reserving their favorite beachside retreats, and princes from far-away continents are visiting the island, playing golf and dining right alongside all those Buckeyes, Blue Devils, Bulldogs, and Gamecocks.

As Celebrate Hilton Head was coming onto the scene in 2006, the island was in the midst of its third beach re-nourishment project since 1990. Like a mirror image, 2016 marked the fourth such project, thanks to the rigors of Mother Nature and plenty of beachcombing. Not an easy or inexpensive endeavor, the Hilton Head Island beach re-nourishment projects moves approximately 2 million cubic yards of sand from the floor of the Atlantic Ocean to refresh miles of shoreline, making the town a model by which coastal towns around the world seek guidance in their own conservation efforts.

Hilton Head Island continues to be one of the top annual nesting sites for the endangered Loggerhead sea turtle population. With the passage of 10 years and the ever-growing number of visitors and residents impacting the beaches, there are more lights to be doused along the shoreline during the nesting period (artificial light misdirects young turtles away from the sea); however, with the efforts to raise awareness and monitor the nests, the number of live turtles that made it to the ocean has increased from an estimated 120 in 2006 to over 345 in 2016—one egg at a time.

Love them, simply tolerate them, or absolutely loathe them, traffic circles are an integral part of the Hilton Head Island, and now the Bluffton way of life, and provide tangible markers of change.

Untold numbers of families may be brought to fits of laughter remembering Dad’s futile attempts to exit to the north, south, east, or west. A decade ago, there were four circles to keep traffic moving on the island’s south end and two on the north end. As of 2016, some of the circles have been revamped, making imprisonment on the inner circle less likely. With six new circles added in an effort to improve traffic flow, they are an elemental part of the local experience, to be given a great deal of attention, taken with patience, and if necessary, a smidgeon of bravery.

The renovation of Coligny Circle coincided with the design and development of Coligny Beach Park. Likely the island’s busiest public beach access, where visitors were welcomed with little more than a place to rinse their feet in 2006, the installation of a wide strolling boardwalk to the beach, complete with splash pad, restrooms, showers, and swings and Adirondack chairs to provide a stopping place to enjoy the view and the action, has vastly improved the experience. The past decade has brought improvements to several public beach access points.

The area is booming with businesses and restaurants that weren’t here in 2006, but are now capturing the imagination and the dollars of locals and visitors. Commercial developments like The Promenade in Bluffton and Shelter Cove Towne Centre on Hilton Head Island have been built from the ground up and beautifully complement their neighbors in Old Towne Bluffton and Shelter Cove Harbour, respectively. A decade-long march of big box retailers, establishing themselves off-island, has somehow not impeded the exciting growth of smaller, locally-owned businesses burgeoning throughout the area, and the revitalization of beloved destinations like Coligny Plaza and Village at Wexford.

The PGA Heritage Golf Tournament at Harbour Towne Golf Links has experienced changes in the past decade, while remaining much the same charming event where locals volunteer, and Hilton Head Island takes on a special shine. In 2006, it was the Verizon Heritage; now the RBC Heritage, the Town of Hilton Head Island helped support the tournament during this turbulent decade when sponsorships were often scarce. 2016 was a record year at the event, and RBC has extended its sponsorship through 2021.

In 2006, local builder and long-running mayor, Tom Peeples was in office. The much-debated Cross Island Parkway was doing its intended job, smoking was permitted in restaurants and public places, and Dove Street had the best holiday light display in the area. By 2016, Mayor David Bennett was in office. The even more hotly-debated flyover was completed, smoking has been banned virtually everywhere, and the Dove Street light display was moved from the North Forest Beach neighborhood to Shelter Cove Towne Centre.

Markers of time and distance are part of the decade-long journey of Celebrate Hilton Head and its Lowcountry home. With a new horizon in their sights, only time will reveal the changes the next 10 years may bring. Happy anniversary, and congratulations on your many milestones…journey on! 

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