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West Orange Times & Observer Monday, Dec. 4, 2017 1 week ago

Oakland Nature Preserve raising money to fix Irma damage

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The Oakland Nature Preserve hopes to raise $20,000 to pay for the hurricane deductible needed for its boardwalk repairs.
by: Gabby Baquero Staff Writer

OAKLAND – Incorporated in 1999, the Oakland Nature Preserve has been an oasis for many visitors who appreciate spending time in nature and observing local wildlife.

However, a local favorite – the 0.7-mile boardwalk built in 2004 that takes visitors through shaded wetlands and ends at a covered pavilion overlooking Lake Apopka – has remained inaccessible following Hurricane Irma’s destruction in early September.

Aside from toppling hundreds of trees in the 128-acre preserve, Irma’s hurricane-force winds destroyed segments of the boardwalk that insurance estimates will cost about $30,000 to $40,000 to fix.

“We were very lucky that we didn’t have any structures sustain building damage except for one shed that had some damage we were able to patch up,” said Jennifer Hunt, the Oakland Nature Preserve’s managing director. “Our biggest issues were downed trees and major damage to the iconic boardwalk. Lots of trees went down, so it looks very different than it did before the storm, which also took out many handrails. We also had some large maple trees that physically broke through the boardwalk in some areas that will have to be completely demoed.”

On Sunday, Nov. 19, the preserve was able to reopen the front 20% percent of the boardwalk between the education building and the island, which is accessed through the preserve’s green trail. The reopening of that segment was possible thanks to a volunteer who rebuilt the damaged handrails in that area. 

However, the rest of the boardwalk remains closed off, with construction barriers obstructing access until significant repairs are made. And nearly three months after Hurricane Irma, damage to the preserve continues, as staff sometimes find newly felled trees after returning the following day.

“We still have trees going down,” Hunt said. “I went down just last week and there was a new maple tree down that took out more handrails. The (trees) are weak from the hurricane, and there’s still water slowly lowering as the lake levels go back to their normal state, which makes more soil shift and causes those trees to continue to go down. But that’s nature – there’s nothing we could do about that. That’s one reason why it continues to be closed.”

Hunt expects the soil to get settled eventually, hopefully, she added, while construction is done on the boardwalk so that the preserve may safely reopen the remaining segments. Hunt estimates about 50 to 75 trees fell victim to Irma along the boardwalk, with some areas o the boardwalk featuring rootballs of massive maples that have gone down.

“One of the largest trees on the property went down – one that I used to climb when I was a kid,” she added. “It’s long gone and on its side now. It was the only thing I cried over when I came back after the storm. I walked around the corner and saw it and just burst into tears like, ‘No, not my tree!’”

Hunt said the preserve will need to pay an expensive hurricane deductible to repair and restore the boardwalk to its former glory, and it will need the community’s help to do so. 

To date, the preserve has raised $1,365 out of its $20,000 goal. Anyone wishing to donate may visit Gofundme.com/ONPBoardwalk.

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