Hurricanes are a reminder of Mother’s Nature force -- and her resilience. Many of Charleston’s city parks were littered with leaves, sticks and limbs, but suffered no significant damage after Hurricane Matthew hit the Charleston area over the weekend.
Charleston Parks Conservancy horticulturists were in the parks on Monday, assessing storm damage. The Conservancy works in 25 of the city’s public parks and most of those were in good condition following the hurricane. Volunteers will help clean up debris, litter and tidy up those parks.
At Colonial Lake, one of the city’s most iconic parks, Matthew’s storm surge flooded the lake and surrounding streets, dousing plants with seawater. Thanks to the dedication and expertise of the Conservancy and its volunteer Park Angels, the damage to the park wasn’t as bad as it could have been.
Earlier this summer, the public celebrated the reopening of the park after a $5.9 million renovation. Thousands of plants were put in the ground over the spring and early summer. Committed Aqua Angels volunteered to keep those plants watered over the hot summer, giving them plenty of time to deepen their roots. Because the plants were well established and rooted, they did not wash away in the hurricane.
A few may have fared better than others in the flooding, but that’s all part of the learning process and the evolution of the park, explained Jim Martin, director of programs for the Charleston Parks Conservancy.
“We will monitor the plants and see what comes through,” he said. “We are learning from Colonial Lake -- whether it’s from a hurricane or a three-month heat wave. In many ways, this is positive because we can learn about the plants and how they react, and then we can share that information with the public as part of our educational mission.”
Martin said over the next month, the park will have a chance to dry out and then he and the other Conservancy horticulturists can truly see which plants survived the storm. In many ways, he said, the park looks as it would in late November after the first hard freeze of winter.
And just as plants come back to life in the spring, so will the plants at Colonial Lake. “It’s the cycle of life,” Martin said.
Many neighbors took note of the most noticeable damage--a downed hackberry tree near the corner of Broad Street and Rutledge Avenue, which the city has taped off until it is able to be removed from the park.
Even this is part of that learning process as to what plants can weather a storm. “We’re sad to see the tree go, but this gives us an opportunity to plant a superior species that can survive hurricanes and be around for many generations to come,” Martin said.
Colonial Lake, which is a natural lake that flows from the nearby Ashley River, can overflow when the river also floods. The new water control structure that was added during the recent renovation worked as it was supposed to, allowing the water to flow to and from the lake and the river.
“This is all just a natural part of living in the Lowcountry,” said Harry Lesesne, executive director of the Conservancy. “Tropical storms, hurricanes, heat waves -- these all happen here in Charleston and impact our parks. We simply embrace it as a part of nature, and we know that our parks and our plants are resilient and will respond.”
Much of the cleanup work is done by Park Angel volunteers and funded by the Colonial Lake maintenance fund. Park lovers are invited to contribute to the Colonial Lake cleanup with a donation, or volunteer at one of the cleanup days in several of Charleston’s parks. Visit CharlestonParksConservancy.org for a list of upcoming volunteer opportunities or to make a donation to support the Conservancy’s work in Charleston’s parks and green spaces.