Message from the Director: The Hurricane Ian Recovery Process

portrait of a man in a red shirt and glasses. He is standing with arms crossed, behind him are trees and stone stairs
Charlie Cobb – Director, Randell Research Center. Florida Museum photo by Kristen Grace

Following my presentation at the Museum Director’s luncheon at the RRC, one consistent question came up: when is the (entire) Calusa Heritage Trail going to be back and open for business? Although my talk had focused on re-kindling research efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, it was gratifying to learn that so many people were concerned about our need to become once again fully accessible to the public. So I’d like to take this opportunity to address the hurdles and opportunities posed in re-opening the trail for all of you as I did for those in attendance that day.

I would first like to point out that we always emphasize above all else the health and safety of employees, volunteers, and guests. When I got my first chance to visit the trail in December following the hurricane, I was shocked to learn that we were still experiencing major falls from large trees that had been partially uprooted during the storm. In addition, a glance up into the tree canopy along the trail showed many broken branches dangling and ready to drop in the next high wind. That knowledge, combined with the fact that the foot bridge had suffered significant damage, led us to the decision to close off the major part of the trail, while opening up the small loop next to the classroom building.

Opening the entirety of the Heritage Trail will require the replacement of the bridge, the replacement of Brown’s Mound overlook, and clearing fallen trees (our staff have done an amazing job thus far but the remaining vegetation requires special equipment). The progress of that work, and of the RRC building renovations, requires completing a trifecta (or, if you are a hockey fan, a hat trick). First, we require completed assessments from the state insurance adjustor along with an estimate of what the state insurance will or will not cover; a parallel assessment from FEMA that determines what they will pay for; and hard estimates from contractors who will carry out various aspects of the work, which then have to be approved by the university in a bidding process.

To make a very long story short, some of these data are just now becoming available to us. As everyone knows, building and landscape contractors in the region have been inundated with work. We were not able to obtain firm landscaping quotes until recently. Likewise, insurance and FEMA adjustors have been overloaded. All of this work must follow strict guidelines set by safety and procurement rules. As much as we love the Heritage Trail, our staff realized that it was a lower priority than the many, many homes and businesses that had been severely damaged or wiped out by Hurricane Ian. So we’ve had to be patient for our turn in the line, which now seems to be arriving.

I cannot thank all of our supporters enough for your patience and continued passion for the RRC. Your eagerness to have things return to normal is a reflection of that, and we dearly feel the same way. I am hoping in the very near future that our RRC blog (through our website) will contain pictures of work as it is initiated and then moves toward completion. And we cannot wait for the day for the grand re-opening of the Heritage Trail, a day which we hope many of you will be able to share with us in person.

As our staff continue to do their due diligence in making sure the recovery process is safe and follows our fiscal procedures, we are setting up for an exciting season ahead. We were able to acquire funding from the National Science Foundation to carry out on-site surveys and generate highresolution damage and risk-assessment maps for Pine Island and Estero Island. We’ve formed powerful new partnerships to expand our reach across the Calusa Coast. Our recovery IS happening and we’re forming partnerships to conduct new research in the future. In the meantime, I certainly hope you take the time to get to the RRC this winter and attend a lecture, go on a guided walk, or enjoy a Harbor History Tour on the water!

Charlie Cobb – Director, Randell Research Center

This article was taken from the Friends of the Randell Research Center Newsletter Vol 22, No. 1 & 2. November 2023.