The Koreshan State Historic Site in Estero has initially assessed damage from Hurricane Wilma to be $16,000, much of that going toward trimming the old trees and collecting the broken branches that litter the park’s paths, campsites, and clog the Estero River, said park officials.
Historic buildings and artifacts escaped heavy damage and Mound Key archaeological site has yet to be assessed. But for now, Koreshan — the big park with a little budget — is scratching for the manpower and funds to finish its cleanup.
“I’m not going to say we’re in good shape. Our trails need a lot of work,” said Assistant Park Manager Karen Lacivita, touring the park on Monday in her white pickup truck. “Huge branches were cut off those trees rather terribly and stuck into the earth like big spears.”
Lacivita knows Wilma’s wrath because she is required to live in a house on site. She resides there with her husband and dog and decided to weather the storm, calling it “terribly frightening” and saying Wilma made her screened aluminum porch “breathe,” as if alive.
She and other park staff had to cut their way through the roads and trails since Monday, making it safe and quickly stanching the loss of visitors. Closed and evacuated of campers since the Friday before the storm, the park was fully reopened on Saturday, Oct. 29.
The Koreshan budget for the rest of the year on July 1 was $83,400, said Lacivita, which included all operating and management expenses. The park has a full-time staff of 11 and depends heavily on volunteer help, as do most state parks. Lacivita said utilities like water, electricity, telephone, and sewer eat about three-quarters of that budget. That leaves about $20,000, close to the park’s initial Wilma damage estimate. And hurricane season is not over.
Time to tighten the belt.
“It’s a pretty small budget, yes,” said Lacivita. “We have to be frugal and make due.”
Lacivita and park staff are thankful Wilma didn’t mimic Hurricane Charley, which caused more than $100,000 in damages to the park but probably “cleaned up” much of the dead and dying vegetation with its destruction.
Matthew Mitchell, a spokesperson for Florida State Parks, said if Koreshan cannot cover repairs and storm cleanup out of its own budget, it may then withdraw from the Southwest district repair budget. Mitchell said the repair budget for all state parks in the state 2005-2006 budget was $12.7 million, and initial estimates for all parks affected by Wilma are $3.1 million, “and climbing.”
But already, damages from hurricanes Charley, in August 2004, through Rita have cost the state more than $25 million, doubling this year’s repair budget. The exorbitant repair costs since 2004 will force many of the parks to apply for emergency funding through the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“We will apply to get FEMA funding,” said Mitchell about the rash of storms in 2005. “But the parks have to make their repairs first out of pocket.”
And rely more heavily on volunteer help.
On Monday, volunteer Archie Gillis fed branches of oak, pine and palm into a woodchipper alongside three full-time park staff. Gillis loves Koreshan, he said, and has been volunteering there since 1989 when he moved with his wife down from the fishing town of Gloucester, Mass.
“I helped put that roof on up there,” said Gillis, pointing up through the morning sun to the damaged sheet metal roof on the generator house, a building standing since 1908 with its original metal siding and roofing.
Structural damage at the park was limited to the generator house roof and a maintenance station, which stands stubbornly in a bent heap. Park curator Kate Anthony confirmed that all 11 historic buildings, built in the late 1800s and early 1900s, were not damaged, requiring little more than typical storm shutters to fend off Wilma’s attack.
“The wood they used was much harder and they hand-crafted everything,” said Anthony about the solid columns of heart pine and cypress that have stabilized the historic places for centuries. “Today, almost everything we make is thrown together with a lot of shortcuts.”
Anthony has researched early 20th century newspaper clippings published by the Teed family, the park’s founders, and says that storm cleanup always has been a community effort on the 305-acre site.
The nature trail is glutted with fallen trees and branches and the Estero River, east of the Koreshan boat launch, also is obstructed by trees. Tree trimmers and bucket trucks are hard to come by right now, said Lacivita, but park staff have worked round the clock since Tuesday to remove hazards from camp sites, trails, and picnic areas.
If Koreshan can salvage one lucrative commodity from Wilma’s pounding, it may be firewood. At $5 for 10 pieces, there sure is plenty of opportunity to go around.
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(Contact Staff Writer Matt Herrick at 213-6047 or at email@example.com)