UCF students, staff restore arboretum grounds after Hurricane Irma

Students using pruners to help cut branches off a fallen tree to help clear debris. Hurricane Irma cleanup at UCF Arboretum Sept. 15, 2017. Photo by Elisa Ramirez.

More than 30 UCF students and staff gathered at the UCF Arboretum Friday morning to help clean up sections damaged by Hurricane Irma.

Equipped with either a pair of gardening gloves or pruners, the volunteers immediately began restoring the arboretum so it will be ready for the resumption of classes Monday, Sept. 18.

The UCF Arboretum is an outdoor landscape that teaches students, visitors and staff about Central Florida’s ecosystems and plant life, according to its website.

Like much of Orlando, the 82-acre arboretum was covered in debris and spotted with uprooted trees, so cleanup was separated into three main jobs: cutting up tree branches, putting debris into piles and unloading debris behind the UCF Softball Stadium.

All the branches were be cut and chipped into sawdust before being repurposed as mulch for the arboretum’s garden.

“It sucks because a lot of the debris in Orlando is just going to be put in trash bags and thrown away,” Michelle Winter, a UCF environmental studies junior said.

Winter said she volunteered for the clean up because she wanted more volunteer hours and also wanted to help her community.

Uprooted tree in the arboretum. Hurricane Irma cleanup at UCF Arboretum Sept. 15, 2017. Photo by Elisa Ramirez.

Amir Mokrian, a UCF junior studying biology, also helped move debris behind the softball fields.

Mokrian, 19, said he was taking part in the event because he needed volunteer hours for his classes.

“Exams have been pushed back, and there is no electricity, so it is hard to study,” he said.

A large pile of debris near the UCF softball fields. Hurricane Irma cleanup at UCF Arboretum Sept. 15, 2017. Photo by Elisa Ramirez.

 

“It wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been, but we did have some have some of our larger kinds fall down,” Kelly Kirk, a garden assistant at the Arboretum, said. “A lot of our fruit trees unfortunately were lost, like bananas, papayas. Luckily the garden did not sustain any damages.”

The damage between Hurricane Irma and last year’s Hurricane Matthew was “kind of the same,” Kirk, a senior environmental studies major at UCF, said

“Except maybe in the public’s perception, there was a little more paranoia about this one because it was expected to be a Category 5,” Kirk said.

Slowly, a 10-foot high pile of broken tree branches, palm leaves and Spanish moss began to form behind the softball fields.

The whole process took a little over two hours, and the arboretum was left almost debris-free.

Kirk acknowledged the sizable turnout and said she expects the debris to be almost gone by next week.

“This is a little different because it is a cleanup and Volunteer UCF also helps spread the word, but for normal volunteer shifts, this would be considered a big volunteer shift,” she said.

Friday’s cleanup was the second half of a two-part cleanup process. The first cleanup event was Wednesday, Sept. 13, according to a UCF Arboretum Facebook post.

Normal volunteer shifts for the arboretum’s community garden are held Tuesday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. and Tuesday through Thursday from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.