As of 2004, South Carolina’s system of state parks consisted of forty-six properties totaling more than eighty thousand acres of land. Its genesis came in the 1930s with the development of sixteen state parks under the auspices of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), a Depression-era federal conservation and employment program. These early parks, which included recreation facilities such as lodges, cabins, campgrounds, swimming lakes, and trails, also provided access to some of the state’s most scenic natural areas.
With the dissolution of the CCC in 1942, state parks came under the management of the State Commission of Forestry, which operated the parks for the next twenty-five years. In the 1950s park attendance dramatically expanded as road improvements, the abundance of automobiles, and relative affluence brought about increased mobility and leisure time. During this period coastal parks at Hunting Island, Edisto Beach, and Myrtle Beach became popular recreation destinations for local residents and out-of-state tourists alike. Until the 1960s South Carolina’s state parks were segregated, and though the state provided separate recreational facilities for whites and blacks, they were never equal as claimed. In 1961 a class- action suit was filed to integrate the parks, and in 1963 an order was issued for the state parks to comply with the Civil Rights Act of 1954. Rather than integrate the system, the state attorney general responded by closing the parks to all South Carolinians, regardless of race. However, in response to public demand, all of the parks were reopened on a desegregated basis by 1966.
In 1967 management of the state park system moved from the Forestry Commission to the newly created Department of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism (PRT). This agency was charged with promoting travel and tourism, operating the system of state parks, and assisting local governments in the development of recreational facilities and programs. Though PRT continued to operate parks that had natural and historical significance, a new emphasis was placed on serving local recreational needs. During this period the state added sixteen parks to the system, including several state resort parks. This ambitious acquisition program was made possible largely through massive infusions of federal funding for recreation granted in the 1970s.
At the start of the twenty-first century, PRT managed the state parks in accordance with two primary guiding principles: stewardship of the natural and cultural resources of the state; and service to the citizens and visitors of South Carolina. Consistent with this service mission, the parks provide resource-based recreational opportunities, as well as numerous educational programs. The state park system also embraces a large number of significant natural and cultural resources, including two National Historic Landmarks, eighteen properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places, ten Heritage Trust Sites, and thousands of acres that protect important archaeological sites, rare habitats, and endangered species.
Cox, Stephen Lewis. “The History of Negro State Parks in South Carolina: 1940–1963.” Master’s thesis, University of South Carolina, 1992.
South Carolina State Planning Board. Parks and Recreational Areas of South Carolina. Columbia, S.C.: State Council of Defense, 1941.