There was a seed planted within the community of Murrells Inlet after Hurricane Hugo in 1989 that has well blossomed. It started with a group of local creek rats who deeply care for the area. They wanted to clean up the debris that flooded our beautiful inlet. The founders named it Spring Tide and with the help of the community, 600 volunteers gathered 70 tons of trash out of the creek in one day. April 18, 2021 will mark the event’s 32nd year of wholesome success.
The Spring Tide event takes place during high tide and begins with an introduction given by one of the founders, Chip Smith. I can personally say with absolute confidence that Chip is one of the most diverse and intelligent creek rats around. He is an admirable photographer and an exquisite writer. The signs along the MarshWalk with descriptions about the local wildlife and fish were narrated by Chip. He also helps with designing all of the T-shirts and stickers for both Spring Tide and Plus-One Boating, another idea Chip brought to life. The objective is that anytime a boater is out on the water, they return to shore with a piece of trash. Chip is no stranger to getting his feet wet and dirty in the salty marsh pluff-mud and he profoundly claims that Spring Tide is “the best day of the year.”
Spring Tide ends with the volunteers bringing their trash back where it belongs just in time for a celebration. Local restaurants donate soup for a Chowder cook-off and Danny’s BBQ contributes their delicious food as well so that all of the volunteers eat for free. The community is able to enjoy a Spring Sunday afternoon together full of Lowcountry love and great music played by local bands. Everyone involved genuinely wants to help and have a good time doing so.
The original founders of the Spring Tide Clean-Up wanted to be an advocate for their treasured coastal home. This monumental sprout of an idea has flourished into a fully operating organization. In 1997, they decided to form Murrells Inlet 2007 which was an all-volunteer-based organization with a 10-year vision set in place. Now, this seed is kind of like the gift that keeps on giving or the plant that never stops growing. It became so essential that it transitioned from a volunteer-based organization to a full-force 501(c)(3) nonprofit.
In 2007, the name was changed to what it is now known as, Murrells Inlet 2020, which does not mean the year, but a vision. The original goal is the same as it is today which is to create a delightful place to live, work, and visit through a combination of environmental awareness, infrastructure improvements, economic development, and community involvement. The first few accomplishments were the building of the MarshWalk and the community center off of Murrells Inlet Road, as well as establishing water quality monitors, and of course, the annual Spring Tide Clean-Up. There are not any memberships, but they acquire financial support from donations, fundraisers, and grants. Murrells Inlet 2020 now has a full board and a paid staff. When I say paid staff, I mean one singular Executive Director, and right now, that position is held by the ever so lovely and versatile Meredith Harrison.
Meredith is a Grand Strand native who graduated from Myrtle Beach High School in 2004. She received her undergrad and master’s degrees from the University of South Carolina where she studied higher education and student affairs. For a decade, Meredith gained experience from an assortment of jobs such as an academic advisor, a marketing director, and positions within multiple nonprofits. Shortly after moving home, Meredith started as a board member for Murrells Inlet 2020 in hopes to help with their marketing and grant writing. However, at her first board meeting, the current Executive Director announced her resignation and they immediately asked Meredith to apply for the position. This April will mark her 5th year as Murrells Inlet 2020’s Executive Director.
Meredith said, “It took me awhile to find my perfect career, and now that I am here, I know this is it. I love a challenge, and this is the kind of work that always has room for improvement.”
Murrells Inlet 2020 is currently working on its 3-year strategic plan involving more community clean-ups, water quality monitoring, beautification projects, and permanent paths for biking and walking. The organization surveys its residents, business owners, and visitors. At the top of the list is always better and safer places to recreate and green space to enjoy. Meredith is most proud of the recent one-mile completion of the five-mile plan for the new Inlet to Intracoastal Multipurpose Path. It is an 8-foot wide biking and walking path that connects to the East Coast Greenway with new crosswalks and light signals allowing a safer way to cross the highway. Meredith explained, “When we had our ribbon-cutting ceremony, I just felt so proud. This pathway is something tangible our community can see and use. It is something that they genuinely asked for and we made it happen.”
The next big project Murrells Inlet 2020 is in the process of building is at Morse Park, where the Spring Tide celebration is held. Part of the objective for this park is to implement best management practices for a watershed plan. Right now, this is a major area where the dirty rainwater runs back into our precious inlet water. There will be two rain gardens planted with native salt-tolerant plants which are where the stormwater will be redirected into. The plants will naturally filter the water before it returns to the creek helping keep it clean. The park will have a state-of-the-art playground, benches, picnic tables, and a limestone walking path surrounding the green space area. There will also be a gazebo down by the water for people to sit and enjoy the inlet or for bands to play and other potential events. There will be lights and recycle bins installed as well as a bike rack and pump. This phenomenal project is expected to be done around the time you are reading this issue of Sasee.
Meredith says, “So much background planning is put in to make these things come to life, from the people you have to get to know, to the fundraising and surveying, and understanding the engineering. It brings me so much joy and satisfaction to know that one day when my children are able to utilize these nice things, I was instrumental in making these experiences possible.”
The organization pushes the hashtag “love where you live” to explain why their organization is a good one to support. Meredith explained, “I ask people, ‘do you love where you live? What are things you love about it?’ And usually, the reason behind why they exist, is because of a lot of the work that we are doing. So, I would say if you want it to stay the way it is and you want to continue to live in a place that is clean and safe, then support us so we can keep on doing the work the community wants and needs. We are all about conservation, commerce, and community.” Besides donations, the biggest way our community can help is by volunteering. If there is a specific event that a patron is passionate about, they are highly encouraged to get involved. To be even more active, the organization also has several committees to serve on. All skill sets are needed and valued. Meredith also encourages anyone with an idea or goal for the inlet to reach out to her and discuss it, and if it is beneficial for the community, she wants to help make it happen.
I asked Meredith what the phrase, “your mind is a garden” means to her. She replied, “Honestly, I think it’s the reason Murrells Inlet 2020 was established and the reason we continue to grow. Our projects prosper because somebody thought up an idea and put their mind to it to figure out how to make it happen.” Meredith believes that one of the most important seeds you can plant is simply being kind to others regardless of how different their age, race, gender, or socioeconomic status may be from yours. She explains that if you can plant that seed of genuine politeness, she feels like that seed will then be planted within someone else in hopes that it spreads and blooms within even more humans. I agree that being friendly with humans as well as our earth can go a long way if enough people contribute the same positive way.
Parallel to the original founders of Murrells Inlet 2020, Meredith undoubtedly has a big heart and deeply cares for our community, including the environment and the people within it. She feels humbly blessed to grow up along the Grand Strand and to be an advocate for making a difference where it truly matters. She loves going boating with her husband, Chuck, who boats every day after work. He never leaves the water until he has done his part in participating in Plus-One Boating. Meredith is excited for Spring, for community events, and for us all to get outside and enjoy our clean and safe coastal home.