Park parking

Public beach park parking spaces at Charleston County beach parks:

Isle of Palms

450

Folly Beach (planned)

240-270

Beachwalker Park, Kiawah Island

180

FOLLY BEACH — The closed county beach park here will reopen by the Fourth of July, officials say — weeks sooner than originally anticipated.

And Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission Director Tom O'Rourke said he now expects the park to be back in business before the holiday weekend.

It couldn't come a parking space too soon. The height-of-summer holiday reopening would relieve at least slightly the two other hard-pressed county beach parks and the virtually overrun beach towns themselves.

Folly Beach County Park is one of only three sizable public beach parks in the Charleston area, and pressure on the other two continues to ramp up, weekend by weekend.

Record crowds on Memorial Day jammed Isle of Palms and the park there. Charleston County sheriff's deputies have been turning away motorists trying to line up to wait for parking at Kiawah Island's Beachwalker Park.

With schools now out and vacations kicking in, that won't get any better.

The Isle of Palms county park, which has 450 parking places, turned over an unheard of three times on Memorial Day, O'Rourke said, with more than 1,000 vehicles piling in, one open spot at a time.

Beachwalker, which has less than half that parking space, hasn't been much better.

“We have to turn people away, because they can't park on the (road) side,” said sheriff's Maj. Jim Brady.

Both parks tended to fill on busy weekends even before the Folly park closed in 2011. But the loss of its 400 parking spots cut by more than one-third the parking available at the popular park beaches, where lifeguards, restrooms and other facilities are provided.

The Isle of Palms park used to relieve some pressure on other parking in that city, but the park and city lots are now filling up by 11 a.m. said city Police Chief Thomas Buckhannon.

The record Memorial Day crowds backed up traffic so badly it took some drivers three hours to get off the island.

“We've seen (Isle of Palms park) turn over before, but never three times,” O'Rourke said.

So the Folly Beach reopening can only help, but the park will open with a little more than half as many spots than before, and the commission provides only about 1,000 beach parking spaces overall.

Tens of thousands of people now jam the beaches on summer weekends, throngs that have been compared to football-stadium-size crowds. And more people are coming all the time.

Reopening Folly “would definitely be somewhat of a relief,” Buckhannon said. “But I still think we're getting the crowds out here anyway.”

Reach Bo Petersen at 937-5744, @bopete on Twitter or Bo Petersen Reporting on Facebook.