Drone footage revealed a new look at the damage wrought by Hurricane Sally at the University of West Florida. Hundreds of trees remain downed at the campus.
Pensacola News Journal
The long haul of clearing the University of West Florida’s outdoor trails and recreation spaces is underway in the weeks after Hurricane Sally.
Over 400 trees and 4,400 large tree limbs are estimated to have been lost in the Category 2 storm that swept through the Pensacola area in mid-September.
While the university has returned to fully operational status, nature trail cleanup continues in the lower priority public areas such as the Rec Plex North and west campus’ Edward Ball Nature Trail and mountain biking trails.
The repairs will take time as contractors access fallen oaks and pines downed deep in the washed out wetlands and forests of UWF.
“You see more and more the more you get on campus and it’s a pretty big impact,” said Jeff Etheridge, University of West Florida grounds coordinator. “… We’ll be doing a lot of remediation in the future and it’s going to be a long haul to get things back to where they were. It’s going to change the landscape quite a bit.”
Cleanup of trail areas falls under the university’s Disaster Recovery Plan so Etheridge said he hoped to see even more progress soon as resources shift from priority student and faculty areas to the surrounding campus.
Outdoor trails remain officially closed and officials are urging the public not to venture back onto the trails until receiving official notice from UWF.
“There are some really dangerous conditions, especially back toward the Park Run trail on the East side of campus,” Etheridge said. “I actually rode that with a contractor yesterday and there are some dangerous situations down there.
“There are things above you that maybe you don’t notice. We are recommending and asking the public to stay off those areas until we officially re-open them.”
Etheridge said he’d seen plenty of downed trees and branches along western campus outdoor spaces, but said that notable routes like the Edward Ball Nature Trail did not see damage to boardwalks and other structures.
Contractors will cut and drop most fallen trees, allowing them to decompose naturally in the forest around the trails. Limbs with a diameter of greater than two inches are also cleared and recorded as part of tracking the hurricane’s impact.
“You’d do far more damage in there trying to get a machine into the wetlands to pull things out,” Etheridge said. “And actually in both locations, we’re not pulling the material out. We’re just cutting the trail clear and making it safe. We’ll push it off into the woods to decompose naturally.”
Etheridge said that the western campus bike trails would be among the lowest priority cleanups for university resources, but progress is already being made with sanctioned work days by the Pensacola Offroad Cycling Club.
While this wasn’t the worst hurricane impact Etheridge has seen at UWF, it is nonetheless a landscape-altering event for the tree-studded campus.
“September 2004 was my first semester in classes out here and then Ivan hit,” Etheridge said. “So I got three weeks off from that and of course I had plenty of mess at my property as well. Obviously this isn’t anywhere near as devastating as Ivan but it does fool you sometimes.”
Eric J. Wallace can be reached at [email protected] or 850-525-5087.