MURRELLS INLET, SC (WMBF) - Huntington Beach State Park has always been known as a great place to go bird watching, and its new nature center was built with birders in mind.
For one photographer, it’s been a long time coming.
“I take tons of pictures here," said Sandra Barnes, a member of Friends of Huntington State Park. "I’ve got videos, PowerPoints of the wildlife here. I love taking pictures.”
Barnes stopped at Huntington Beach State Park on her first trip through South Carolina in 2006.
Her love for the park started with one fateful picture.
“I saw a painted bunting, first time I ever saw a painted bunting," said Barnes. "It was taking a bath, and I took like 100 pictures.”
Thousands of pictures and 14 years later, Barnes is at the park constantly and joined fellow Friends of Huntington Beach State Park.
Barnes was shocked a few years ago when she heard the nature center got struck by lightning and burned down.
“It was devastating," said Barnes. "I’ll be honest, I cried. All the animals that were lost.”
Barnes and the rest of Friends of Huntington Beach State Park raised $90,000 to go toward a new nature center.
Four years and $2.3 million later, a new one is open, and the park manager says it’s pivotal to the educational value of the park.
“We’re 2500 acres, that includes salt marsh, sand dunes, maritime forest in various brackish and saltwater ponds, so when you come to the nature center, you can get a look at each of those habitats," said Huntington Beach State Park Manager Brenda Magers.
Each of the exhibits from those various ecosystems features wildlife that can be seen in the park in the right conditions.
The new facility also includes a lookout over the marsh, designed with birders like Barnes in mind.
“The people will love it and I think it will be just a great place again," she said.
Barnes’s favorite, the painted bunting, is generally only here in the summertime, but she’s looking forward to taking pictures of the loons and anything else that makes a stop at Huntington Beach State Park in the Fall and Winter.