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Pawleys Island: Parking grows scarce earlier each season

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Memorial Day on Pawleys Island.

Chance of rain: 30 percent.

Chance of finding a parking spot: slim to none.

“This is as busy as I’ve ever seen it,” Police Chief Guy Osborne said, eyeing the line of cars parked along Myrtle Avenue between Town Hall and First Street.

Even before the official start of the tourist season there were three days when every parking spot on the island was filled. That included the marked spaces, such as the 80 at the south end parking lot. It included the roadsides, such as the south end cul-de-sac on Atlantic Avenue where someone had moved a wood trash can rack to be able to squeeze another car onto the shoulder.

“I think Memorial Day, the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, is busier than the Fourth of July,” Cpl. Matt Elliott said.

And yet, by mid afternoon Monday, police had written just 14 parking tickets, Sgt. Clay Naar said.

“There are a lot of cars,” he said, but added “they were very good down on the south end.”

The press of cars and the occasional dispute over who had dibs on parking spots led the town to put a part-time officer at the county-owned parking lot a few years ago.

With the south end full, beachgoers have shifted their attention to the north end. Parking along Myrtle Avenue near Town Hall is a recent trend, Elliott said.

Osborne credits the lack of incidents to the town’s decision to maintain funding for the police department at five full-time and four part-time officers. That was enough to provide 24-hour patrols and make sure that at the busiest times police maintain visibility on the three-and-a-half mile long island.

“Pro-active policing,” Osborne called it.

Memorial Day weekend is traditionally a time for homeowners to spend time on the island before renting their homes to summer vacationers who will arrive as soon as their children are out of school. Empty rental houses meant there wasn’t the volume of traffic on the roads – or the number of walkers, joggers and cyclists – but there was a steady stream of cars and trucks circling in search of a parking space.

Elliott was on patrol Saturday. Lisa Orr was on duty at the south end. Tracie Milligan, another part-time officer, was making rounds on a four-wheeler.

The law requires vehicles parked on the roadside to have all four tires off the pavement. “Most of them are making an effort,” Elliott said on a ride down Atlantic Avenue.

One Honda that didn’t got a ticket from Milligan.

A man watching an oceanfront house for his son flagged Elliott down to let him know someone driving an SUV had parked at the house without permission. Elliott said he would keep and eye out.

A Georgetown man carrying a surfboard walked by and loaded it into a minivan. When the van wouldn’t start he asked Elliott for a jump-start.

“I like the public service part of the job,” Elliott said.

After a couple of minutes the minivan only gave an anemic sputter. Maybe they could try Elliott’s jumper cables, the man suggested. “Mine are kind of worn,” he said.

The police-issue cables put new life into the 4-year-old battery, the man drove off and another parking spot opened.

Elliott was back on the beach on Memorial Day, but this time for an afternoon with his family. He said he usually finds a spot to park on the north end.

Cpl. Mike Fanning took over patrol duties from Naar. He quickly spotted a van with a boat trailer with two wheels well out into the pavement on Third Street. He pulled over and discovered that was the one ticket Naar wrote on the early shift.

On Atlantic Avenue near First Street, Fanning spotted a pickup that was parked well off the pavement. He had written the driver a ticket the day before. Another pickup was parked in front of a fire hydrant. “That’s my pet peeve,” Fanning said.

People regularly stop officers to ask about parking rules. Fanning said one woman asked him to back her car out of a space on Hazard Street because she had never driven in reverse before.

“Ma’am, we don’t do that,” he told her.

On a drive through the south end parking lot, Fanning stopped to check the handicapped parking permits in two cars. One was current with a photo ID. The other was older with dates written in by hand. The driver said the permit was for his father, who was on the beach, but he didn’t hang around.

On his next trip through, a woman with an oxygen tank and a walker was getting out of a van in the same spot.

Along Springs Avenue, the only road to the south end access, Fanning stopped to tell a landscaper he couldn’t park his truck in the road while mowing the grass. “We give them some slack in the off-season,” he said.

As people began to head home for the day, Fanning pulled over on Myrtle Avenue near the South Causeway and set up his traffic radar. A steady stream of cars came around the corner by the old Tip Top Inn: 24, 23, 26, 21 … All in a 25 mph zone. The only break in the routine was a pickup truck that clocked in at 15 mph with two cars following closely.

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