Special playground in Myrtle Beach has special connection to Ocean Lakes

 A special playground in Myrtle Beach is giving children with special needs a place to play alongside everyone else – and has a special connection to Ocean Lakes Family Campground.

Savannah’s Playground, at Grand Park near The Market Common, is designed to accommodate children of all abilities, including those with special needs, so all children can play together. It also gives parents with disabilities the chance to play with their kids in a way that other playgrounds don’t accommodate.

The sprawling playground features swingsets, a harmony musical park, climbing areas, slides and a challenge ropes course with a zipline. Various sections cater to different ages.

The $1.2 million Americans with Disabilities Act-approved park opened in Myrtle Beach – about five miles away from Ocean Lakes – late in the summer and has quickly become a hit with families and a model for other cities that want to provide a similar playground, officials said.

The inspiration for the city-owned park came from Savannah Thompson, the 20-year-old daughter of Lance Thompson, General Manager and Vice President of Ocean Lakes Family Campground.

“Everybody knows Savannah,” city spokesman Mark Kruea said. “You can’t help but be affected by her willpower and genuine happiness, infectious smile. And her family are great representatives of Myrtle Beach.

She’s just an inspiration to all who know her.”

Savannah Thompson, center, during the ribbon cutting ceremony for Savannah's Playground.

Savannah has Williams Syndrome, a condition that presents developmental delays and left her with a heart defect. She had her first surgery when she was 4, but there were complications with the anesthesia that caused her to go into cardiac arrest. Savannah was oxygen deprived for 20 minutes, which caused significant brain trauma. She was in a coma for almost a month, but Savannah fought her way back.

She’s become a bit of a local celebrity: a fixture at Coastal Carolina University where she cheers for her Chanticleers and a regular performer of the national anthem at events such as the United Way Day of Caring breakfast and Miracle League games. She even graced the high-profile stage at the Carolina Country Music Fest in 2015 to accept a donation for the special park that would eventually bear her name, winning the hearts of the fans and famous performers.

“She just brightens your day,” said Ed Gruetzner, regional representative with Carolina Parks and Play, which worked on Savannah’s Playground.

Savannah Thompson cuts the ribbon on the playground bearing her name in September.
During the playground’s ribbon cutting ceremony Sept. 3, Savannah – decked out in CCU teal – flashed that trademark smile as several hundred residents and visitors gathered to celebrate the opening of the park, which many experts say is the most impressive enabling park in South Carolina.

“I want to thank everybody for coming. This is a big honor for me and my whole family,” Savannah told the crowd before turning to give her big sis Chandler a big hug.

The playground has been popular with kids of all abilities since it opened – often a hub of activity during the recent nice, sunny fall days.

“We are ecstatic that individuals of all abilities, and of all ages, both residents and guests alike, will be able to enjoy the playground for many, many years to come,” Lance Thompson said. “We could not be happier that Savannah was the inspiration behind the concept, and that the playground has been named in her honor.

“At the risk of offending Disney, in our opinion Savannah’s Playground is the happiest place on Earth.”

The playground has caught the attention of cities and counties in the Southeast considering building similar parks, Gruetzner said. 

“This opened up a lot of eyes,” Gruetzner said. “It kind of sets the bar. It’s starting to trend now.”


Myrtle Beach Mayor John Rhodes spearheaded the project for the city and helped raise the money to make it happen, including $300,000 from South Carolina; $300,000 from the Myrtle Beach Air Force Base Redevelopment Authority; $100,000 from Horry County; $350,000 from the city and $50,000 from Wal-Mart.

“He had the idea, had the vision and put the plan into action,” Kruea said. “It is a good fit for the city.”

Savannah Thompson, center, and big sis Chandler with Myrtle Beach Mayor John Rhodes, left, and Rep. Alan Clemmons during the ribbon cutting ceremony for Savannah's Playground in September.

Lance Thompson thanked Rhodes and others for helping make the park happen.

“Our family is very grateful to Mayor Rhodes, the city of Myrtle Beach, the county of Horry, the state of South Carolina, the Air Force Base Redevelopment Authority and all the many other groups and individuals who have worked so tirelessly to make this wonderful facility a reality,” he said.

The new playground has quickly wowed residents and leaders, and more phases are in the works. The city already is planning to add restrooms and an entryway feature that will welcome guests to the park, Kruea said.

Fund-raising for future expansion is underway, though details of the next phases haven’t been locked down. Officials are considering a splash pad, more playground equipment and paddleboats.

“The playground is going to get a lot of use seven days a week,” Kruea said.

If you go

WHAT | Savannah’s Playground
WHERE | Grand Park at The Market Common, near Crabtree Memorial Gym
WHEN | Daily, dawn to dusk

Want to donate?

Get more info here.

Checks should be made out to Savannah’s Playground, LLC

Donations should be mailed to:
Savannah’s Playground
P.O. Box 3971
Myrtle Beach, SC 29578


Campfires at Ocean Lakes | What you need to know with cooler weather on tap this weekend

Campfire season is on its way with cooler temperatures arriving in the Myrtle Beach area.

But before you bust out all the campfire gear, brush up on our rules and get tips for making sure your fire doesn’t get out of hand.

Ocean Lakes allows campfires on sites in the campground, but they must be contained in a ring or an elevated fire pit. Guests must stay with the campfire, ensure that it’s completely out and clean up any debris from it.

In addition to the general safety anywhere you have a campfire, guests should take extra precautions here because of the ocean breezes.

“I would just encourage your folks not to have huge ones,” said Kathy Nieuwenhuis, public education officer with Horry County Fire-Rescue. “With any wind those embers can be picked up and deposited somewhere else.”

Reminder: While Ocean Lakes allows campfires at sites in the campground, campfires are NOT allowed on the beach.

Here are a few tips for guests building a fire at their site:

-- Never leave a campfire unattended.

-- Make sure you have water or other way to put out the campfire readily available.

-- Campfires shouldn’t be any more than 2 to 3 feet high or wide.

-- Find a spot without low-hanging branches, bushes or anything else nearby that could catch fire. Be mindful of some of the lingering debris from Hurricane Matthew.

-- Don’t burn dangerous things like aerosol cans, pressurized containers, glass or aluminum cans. They can explode or shatter, or create harmful fumes.

-- Keep a close eye on children and pets near the fire.

When putting out your campfire:

-- Allow the wood to burn completely to ash, if possible.

-- Put lots of water on the fire. Drown all the embers; keep pouring water on it until the hissing sound stops. Not enough water? Stir dirt or sand into the embers with a shovel to bury the fire.

-- Stir the embers around to ensure another fire doesn’t start. The coals should be wet and cold. REMEMBER: If it’s too hot to touch, it’s too hot to leave.

Be safe and have fun!

SOURCES | Kathy Nieuwenhuis with Horry County Fire-Rescue; Lt. Jon Evans with Myrtle Beach Fire Rescue; Smokeybear.com; ReserveAmerica.com


Ocean Lakes takes extra steps to speed up storm debris removal

We were fortunate not to have major damage from Hurricane Matthew, but the storm left a mess – lots of downed tree limbs, sticks and leaves.

Our team has been making the rounds to collect all the debris as quickly as possible – and we have extra outside crews arriving today to help.

A teammate drops off a load of debris in the new drop-off area south of the South Gate entrance Thursday morning.

If the debris is creating issues with parking at your site, here are some options:


We’ve designated special drop-off areas near the South Gate entrance for owners/guests to bring bulk debris such as big limbs, sticks and stumps, and bagged yard debris with leaves. (NO bagged trash).

Bulk debris should be dropped in the area south of the South Gate entrance.

This is the area north of the South Gate entrance where guests can drop off bagged debris.
Bagged debris should be dropped in the area north of the South Gate entrance that is usually used for overflow parking.


If you’ve left debris at your site for pick up, never mix the bagged debris with the bulk debris such as tree limbs. That slows down our crews and delays the overall cleanup.
Never mix large debris with bagged debris as seen here; it slows pick up and the overall cleanup process. Always put them in separate piles.
Please understand that the massive debris collection efforts aren’t limited just to Ocean Lakes. The storm packed a punch, leaving debris spread through much of the Myrtle Beach area.

Horry County and the city of Myrtle Beach also have taken extra steps – such as setting up special drop-off points and manning a debris cleanup hotline – to help get the debris collected as quickly as possible. There’s so much of it, clean up will just take time.

Hurricane Matthew was a Category 1 storm when it hit the area Oct. 8, dumping heavy rain that caused flooding, knocking out power (some residents were without it for five days) and creating a mess with the downed trees and debris.

Piles of tree limbs waiting for pick up are stacked along major roads such as Kings Highway, and throughout many neighborhoods. The Horry County drop-off centers have been slammed as residents dump massive truck loads of debris.

At Ocean Lakes, outside crews are on hand to help. Thanks to our guests for their patience as the storm cleanup continues.

“We have extra crews out there now,” said Kevin McWhirter, Ocean Lakes’ Operations Manager. “We will take care of your yard debris, but it will take time.”


Tips for making the most of your Halloweekends stay at Ocean Lakes

Talk about scary.

Less than a week before our first Halloweekend was set to start, Hurricane Matthew made an unwelcome visit to the Myrtle Beach area – knocking out power, tossing limbs and debris throughout the campground and leaving several inches of water in our Recreation Center – the hub of our Halloween activities.

But our team snapped into action to get everything ready. Just days after the storm, the Recreation Center is cleaned up and decked out for all the Halloweekend fun kicking off today (Oct. 14).

“Our team hustled all week to clean up from the storm and to get ready for an awesome Halloweekends,” said Salle Horner, Sandy Harbor and Recreational Activities Coordinator.

Ocean Lakes has three Halloweekends: Oct. 14-15, Oct 21-22 and Oct. 28-29. It’s a busy time, with only a handful of campsites left those weekends.

Halloweekends consume the campground, and the lineup of activities is non-stop, starting Friday evening with the Karaoke Carnival at the Center Stage beside Sandy's Meet n' Eat.

On Saturday, there are contests throughout the day for pumpkin carving-decorating, costumes and even pet costumes, followed by trick or treating, capped with the Creepy Site Crawl and Monster Mash Ball in the evening.

Get a full list of ALL the Halloweekend activities.

“Know that from the time you wake up until you go to bed at night, expect to be doing something constantly,” Horner said. “There is literally something going on the entire day. So you better get a good night’s sleep.”

A few tips to make the most of your Halloweekend:

WHAT’S NEW? | Karaoke and Halloween face painting will spice up our Friday night fun! Hit the stage to belt out your best karaoke song or get your face painted for Halloween!

WHAT | Karaoke Carnival
WHEN | 7 p.m. Friday (Oct. 14, Oct. 21, Oct. 28)
WHERE | Sandy’s Meet n Eat Center Stage
COST | Free

Also new this year: We will have more age groups in our Family Costume Contest. We will have six age groups: 3 and under; 4-5 year olds; 6-7 year olds; 8-10 year olds, 11-14 year olds and 15 and up. There also is a Family/Group category.

Prizes awarded for Scariest, Funniest, Cutest, Most Unique and Best Overall.

WHAT | Family Costume Contest
WHEN | 2 p.m. Saturday (Oct. 15, Oct, 22, Oct. 29)
WHERE | Recreation Center
COST | Free

CANDY | Simply put, you can never have enough. Halloweekends bring out tons of ghosts, goblins, superheroes and other characters for trick or treating each Saturday.

Bottom line: Spend as much as you feel comfortable with on candy.

HANDING OUT CANDY? Swing by our Recreation Office before 2 p.m. Saturday to sign up. You’ll get a distinctive Halloween sign to put at your site.

GOING TRICK OR TREATING? The annual tradition starts at 4:30 p.m. Saturday. Swing by the Recreation Office at 4 p.m. that day to pick up the list of treat-friendly sites.

WHAT | Trick or Treating
WHEN | 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Saturday (Oct. 15, Oct. 22, Oct. 29)
WHERE | Throughout the campground

FAMILY-FRIENDLY | Our guests go all out with their Halloween decorations and costumes – we love that – but remember that Halloweekends are focused on families. Be creative, but keep it clean. Be scary, but not so much that you’d make a little one cry.

SOUVENIRS | Take home a souvenir that will last longer than your Halloween candy. All items are available in our Recreation Office.

CUPS – We have a limited number of Starfish Wars-themed cups for $2. After we posted a photo of the prize cups on Facebook, many of you wanted to buy one. So we set aside a limited number to sell – but you better hurry before they are all gone! You can buy one in our Recreation Center.

T-SHIRTS – You can’t leave without the 2016 themed shirt. This year’s shirt boasts a custom design featuring our theme, Starfish Wars. Adult sizes, $16; kids’ sizes $14.

BAGS  - Our popular trick or treat bags are back! Just $3.

STARFISH WARS | May the fun be with you…..Our Starfish Wars display has already had quite the ride. After a few weeks of greeting guests, they were chased indoors by Hurricane Matthew, which blew through the area Oct. 7 and Oct. 8. But they've been back up and enjoying the sunshine all week!

Kudos to our maintenance team for building and taking care of the gang and to our design team for creating them.

Meet the whole gang:

Swing by and take some photos with the Starfish Wars gang. They hang out near the South Gate entrance.

A few other notes:

GOLF CARS | Our Golf Car Building will stay open later during the three Halloweekends to accommodate the crowds. It will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday of each weekend. (Golf Cars will operate 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday).

OLFC GUESTS ONLY | Sorry, our Halloweekend activities are only for guests staying at Ocean Lakes and our annual lease site holders.

And most important: Have fun!