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Murrells Inlet: For new leader, 2020 means vision

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Whitney Hills says she has loved Murrells Inlet since she waited tables at Inlet View Restaurant 22 years ago. She got to know the community’s characters and was introduced to life in the fishing village. She called it “Mayberry By The Sea.”

“I hope I don’t live long enough to see the core change,” said Hills, who presided over Wednesday’s Murrells Inlet 2020 board of director’s meeting as chairman. After two years off the board — she was on the advisory board last year — she’s starting a second term as chairman of the community group at a pivotal time.

“The core of Murrells Inlet is still the same,” Hills said during an interview this week. “Obviously, the landscape has changed immensely. I hope it stays quaint forever, or at least my forever.”

Hills knows practically everyone in the inlet and has seen most of the goals of the original Murrells Inlet 2007 committee realized: a community center, a watershed plan, the Marsh Walk and Jetty Walk along with the Veterans Pier, a vibrant economy and another dredging of the inlet on the horizon.

She said when the Murrells Inlet 2007 name was changed to Murrells Inlet 2020 it was about 20/20 vision not the year. “It’s pretty cool to be turning 18 this year,” Hills said. “We’ve graduated. It’s time to reach out to the public again and find some new things to do. That’s how it began.”

Hills said Murrells Inlet 2020 is a facilitator, getting the right people in the room to get things done. With no real authority, the inlet group has proven influential nonetheless. It’s dual mission of protecting the waters of the inlet and promoting the economy eventually led to a divided board when Marsh Walk restaurants went together to stage weekly fireworks shows over the inlet the last two summers.

Hills has the ability to talk with everyone without drawing lines in the sand. “Over 22 years,” she said, “I’ve created good relationships with a whole lot of people.” She said Murrells Inlet 2020 and the Marsh Walk restaurants have a fine relationship and she doesn’t see any issues. If the weekly fireworks shows come back, the board will decide what it wants to do, Hills said. “We’ll cross that bridge if it comes up again,” she said. “Last year 2020 was not in favor of fireworks, and I don’t see any reason that would change. When it gets near the time, we’ll talk about it then.”

Hills wants to get some members of the younger generation involved with the organization through trash pick-ups, oyster roasts, chowder talks and water monitoring. “There’s a certain cycle to it,” Hills said. “We need to see that the guard changes with the times.”

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