June 2011

JUNE 2011: A Line In The Sand - Why Hilton Head/Bluffton Is Better

Author: Frank Dunne, Jr. & Courtney Hampson


Once upon a time there was a little boy in his late-20s/early-30s or thereabouts who lived in a big city (well, near a big city at least) in the Great White North. He had nice friends, a nice bachelor pad, a nice job, and there was lots of fun stuff for the boy and his friends to do in town.

Yes, all was right with the world for our young friend, that is, except for one thing. You see, winter in the big city in the Great White North was very long, very dark, and very, very cold. This made the boy sad, even angry, when horizontal freezing rain pelted him in the face at 30 miles per hour.

One cold winter day, the boy was looking pensively out his window at the endless, gloomy, gray sky and wondering; “Will I ever see the sun shine again?”

As he gazed out the window at the cold, gray winter sky, his mind drifted off to a faraway seaside island where it was sunny and warm most of the time and people were probably playing golf and walking along the beach. His mind didn’t drift off to a place called the Home Depot where people were probably shopping and walking along a concrete sidewalk.

The boy had been to the island many times before, and he liked it there because it was so sunny and warm. This made him happy. Mostly, though, he liked it because it was on the ocean, and the boy loved the ocean. He loved to swim in the ocean and paddle or sail over the waves and stuff like that. Yes, the boy liked going to the island because it was on the ocean, not because it was near a Best Buy store.

He liked to run along the island’s miles and miles of beach. Sometimes he would just walk. Other times he would simply lie in the sand, listening to the waves and feeling the warm sunshine and ocean breezes after a swim. The boy liked this because it made him feel peaceful and relaxed. He also liked the beach because in the morning he could watch the sun, and at night, the moon, rise over the ocean. Or, if he had a bad day, he could go to the tiki bar and feel like he was on vacation.

The boy thought about the ocean and the miles and miles of beach as he looked out the window at the cold, gray winter sky. But he didn’t think about congested traffic on miles and miles of Highway 278.

On the island, you were never more than a stone’s throw from the beach and the ocean. You had to travel for days from the big city in the Great White North just to see the ocean. As he looked out the window at the cold, gray winter sky, the boy thought about how wonderful it would be to live just a stone’s throw from the beach and the ocean. But he didn’t think about how wonderful it would be to get stuck in tourist traffic at the Moss Creek light trying to get to the beach on a Saturday.

The boy turned away from the window and declared; “I will go to the island again, and this time I’m not coming back!” So he traveled day and night until he reached the island, never to return to the big city in the Great White North.

It is said that he passed through Bluffton along the way…but he never even noticed.




When I was preparing to move to the Lowcountry from the snow-laden northeast, I received one tidbit of advice: If you are going to work in Bluffton, live in Bluffton. If you are going to work on the island, live on the island.

Since I would be giving up a 150-mile daily roundtrip commute, and was anxious to reclaim some “me time,” I heeded that advice. The decision to move was actually swift. I had only been to the Bluffton/Hilton Head area twice before I decided to move here. My sister moved first. Shortly thereafter, Mom decided that she was going to retire to Bluffton. And I figured what the hell? I bought a home via e-mail and picked out my upgrades from a large FedEx box full of tile samples, cabinet doors, and counter top choices that arrived one snowy morning.

Fast forward a few months, 800 miles, one broken down moving truck on the side of I-95 outside of Raleigh, and I was home. At first, I was all about going to the beach on Hilton Head, which, in hindsight, makes little sense to me. I grew up at the beach, in a tourist town, where I would hide from Memorial Day to Labor Day to avoid what we called “bennies.” (Benny was an acronym for some of the places that the tourists would come from—Bayonne, Elizabeth, Newark, and New York). And now, I was doing the exact same thing. I moved to paradise to sit in traffic for 30 minutes, to travel eight miles, pay $1 an hour for beach parking and be annoyed in traffic on the way back home, all for an ocean that I have been swimming in for more than 30 years.

Then I discovered the May River and realized I never had to leave Bluffton. I sunk my toes into the pluff mud. I inhaled the salty air. I devoured the sweet oysters plucked from the riverbeds. And it all became clear. This is why I moved here. There is only one place to find the May River, and that, my friends, is Bluffton, South Carolina. It only takes one foray into the river to realize what a gem it is.

Oh, but life can get sweeter. Buy a boat, for dancing the tides, and your life will change forever. Mine did. Now, I live my life by the tides—okay, by my iPhone and the tides—which I can check at just a moment’s notice and with a finger’s touch, thanks to the handy dandy tide app. Seriously, though, from March-October, the tides help balance my life—whether it is a rockin’ sandbar Saturday with 1,000 other revelers or high tide, when I feel comfortable skirting up Bull Creek, throwing in the anchor, and floating in front of “our oak,” or a slow cruise up the river, watching Old Town as if it were a movie set.

I’m also lucky that my office overlooks the May River (well, if I crane my neck just right). Let’s face it, there is no bad day, when you can slowly walk down the dock and feel the stress of work lift from your shoulders.

Now, I realize my entire argument is based on the allure of the May River. But the May River is Bluffton. It always has been. It is the centerpiece of the town. Even our main drag, which I would argue is Calhoun Street, empties into the May. Long before all of us Yankees moved here, before Bluffton had a Best Buy, a Target, a Taco Tuesday a Jim ’n’ Nick’s, a Wendy’s or a Wal-Mart, folks simply lived their lives by the tide. How fortunate are we in 2011 that we can do the same?

Frank, just one final thing I have to ask: Without Bluffton, how exactly would you get to Hilton Head?

My point exactly.

  1. I live in Bluffton and it isn’t because I want to be near a Best Buy or any other chains or franchises. If I did, I could just move to the island and live near Wal-Mart. Instead, I live among the Live Oaks and the Palmettos. My neighbors are permanent residents and I am not surrounded by tourists on a daily basis. I don’t care for the traffic, but you get that on and off the island. We spend most of our free time at the beach and love every minute of it. I know where to park so I don’t have to pay $1 an hour. The May River is great, but it isn’t the beach, so I could never just settle for that alone. I go for walks and runs at the beach and in Bluffton. I am 20 miles to Savannah and just a bit more to Beaufort. If I want to go to the island, it takes me a few minutes to cross the bridge. I like being centrally located. I also like paying less in taxes. Overall, I think the two areas compliment each other, but I prefer living in Bluffton.

    — Maggie Ellison    Jun 2, 10:14 am   

Let Us Know what You Think ...

commenting closed for this article