Treasure Hunting

The words have been spoken so often during the past few months that they bear repeating here. Hilton Head Island is full of undiscovered treasures. Of course, it’s replete with discovered treasures, too, like our beautiful beaches and marshes, and our wildlife and recreational opportunities. For these we receive worldwide accolades. But still mostly hidden here are a distinct people group, places harboring extraordinary pieces of history found nowhere else, and dynamic opportunities to bring every Hilton Head Islander together into one unique and collaborative community.

In our very midst are magnificent people, steeped in the richest of history. They are a shining example of one truly remarkable facet of Hilton Head Island, though often they’re unseen. They have encountered seemingly insurmountable obstacles, and it is certainly no small wonder that their culture survives at all. But their traditions run mighty and deep, fully flavoring our wonderful island home. Most assuredly, Hilton Head Island is profoundly grateful for the Gullah people and their heritage.

February is the month to taste the Gullah culture. It’s the month to see it and hear it and feel it and know how blessed we all are by it. It is the month to learn about the people who, for generations, have made Hilton Head Island their home, and who certainly know this place better than anyone else. This month, an incredible opportunity is generously offered to each Hilton Head Islander to come into relationship with the Gullah people. Chasing away our winter blues, it’s the twenty-first annual Hilton Head Island Gullah Celebration, all month long. And I, for one, intend to accept the invitation. Visit gullahcelebration.com for all the details.

Deeper still, buried beneath the surface of our soil, are discoveries, which spark the dreams of archeologists. Over the past year, a distinguished team of such professionals from SUNY Binghamton has investigated sites island-wide. At the Sea Pines Shell Ring last spring, they completely mapped the area using ground penetrating radar, and just this past summer Matt Sanger started excavations there, revealing information about the island’s first permanent settlement over 4,000 years ago. This shell ring is one of the best-preserved shell rings in the Southeastern United States and one of four located right here on Hilton Head Island. The Zion Cemetery was mapped, and new burial plots were discovered this winter as archeologists searched for the Zion Chapel of Ease foundations. Assuredly, other shell rings, the Coastal Discovery Museum property, and public archaeology at the Mitchelville site are destined for further archeological investigation, bringing long-buried history to light.

Finally, we have the treasures of R/UDAT (Regional/Urban Design Assistance Team) from the past and the Visioning initiative for the future. R/UDAT is a comprehensive study about our community, prepared over 20 years ago by the respected group of professionals known as the American Institute of Architects, or AIA. (Use the link http://bit.ly/2kb5vOS to read the R/UDAT study.) Contained within its pages are the treasures of insights and understanding into issues and opportunities that continue to be of paramount importance to our community. Addressing them together could provide a unique opportunity for us to truly unify ourselves into One Island, One Community. Combined with Visioning, which continues to be a priority of Town Council and is receiving the apt attention of the Public Planning Committee, we islanders could set an extraordinary example of excellence in community planning. It could be said of us that we Hilton Head Islanders are the best curators of treasure anywhere.

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