Hurricane Irma, at its strongest, the most powerful hurricane ever recorded in the open Atlantic, made landfall in Southwest Florida as a category 3 hurricane on September 10, 2017. With peak wind gusts of 142 mph recorded in Naples, the center of the storm path passed about 2.5 miles (4 km) west of Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary and less than 6 miles (9.7 km) from Corkscrew’s Blair Audubon Visitor Center.
Between September 9 and September 11 Irma dropped 12.6 in. (32 cm) of rainfall on the Sanctuary. This rainfall came during the rainiest summer the Sanctuary has ever experienced and contributed to the record rainfall total of 76.8 in. (195 cm) during the 2017 rainy season (June-September). Peak water levels following Hurricane Irma were 4.18 ft. (127 cm) as measured at our ‘B’ staff gauge in the north Lettuce Lake. This peak water level has only been surpassed twice in Corkscrew’s 59-year continuous water level record: following Tropical Storm Jerry in August 1995 (peak depth=4.44 ft./135 cm) and Hurricane Donna in September 1960 (peak depth=4.33 ft./132 cm)
Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary suffered heavy damage from Hurricane Irma, with whole sections of the boardwalk knocked out. Tours were halted until repairs could be made. The storm felled cypress trees that had stood for more than 500 years, including two of the Landmark Cypress trees. An intense repair effort, spearheaded by longtime volunteer Jack Wheeler, allowed the boardwalk to be reopened within a month.
The short loop reopened on Friday, October 6, 2017. On Thursday, December 7, 2017, the full 2.25-mile boardwalk reopened to visitors. As we recover and make repairs, we could use your support. Click here to make a gift directly to Audubon's Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary.
Previous Status Reports
After Hurricane Irma hit, this website was used to update the public about repairs at the Sanctuary. For historical purposes, these updates appear below.
December 5, 2017 Update
Grand Reopening Weekend! Thursday, December 7 through Sunday, December 10
We are celebrating the reopening of our 2.25-mile boardwalk with a grand opening weekend Thursday, December 7 through Sunday, December 10. Guided boardwalk tours, holiday shopping, membership benefits, and views of the fabled super ghost orchid are among the welcome attractions.
In October, we were able to open a one-mile stretch of the boardwalk. But we've heard tremendous demand for the full boardwalk experience from locals as well as visitors from throughout the world.
Our staff and volunteers have devoted three months of hard work clearing fallen trees and repairing breaches in the boardwalk. The entire boardwalk is in excellent condition and ready for visitors.
During our reopening weekend, in addition to strolling the entire boardwalk, we are offering special amenities and activities that will enrich an already rewarding experience.
October 6, 2017 Update
We open at 7:00 am today! Only the short loop is open so far.
Admission is reduced for now and is $10:00 per adult and children under 18 are free. Friends of Corkscrew Members have free admission as usual.
September 20, 2017 Update
We have at least 24 places where trees significantly damaged the boardwalk. Full deck breach was limited to one location (the Bee Tree) on the short loop. Many of these repairs will be to be completed we can open even a limited area of the boardwalk.
Removal of the Bee Tree is one critical obstacle that prevents us from opening. Once the Bee Tree is removed, the boardwalk breach can be repaired allowing visitor traffic access to the short loop/bypass route.
Signature Tree Care has generously agreed to donate a crew to remove the Bee Tree from the boardwalk. In addition, Signature has also given us crews to remove the leaning trees over the Living Machine and library and as many of the other tree hazards along the boardwalk as they can remedy in a single day. Thank you, Signature Tree Care!
Tomorrow, Sept. 21, 2017, Jack Wheeler will head a crew to rebuild boardwalk. Olson Construction will head another crew to rebuild boardwalk. Teams will split up and work on the entrance and exit portions of the walk. We’ve had volunteers, staff and contracted crews helping prepare for the construction. Steve Nellis and Hayden Deakins will pull side rails from a closed section of short loop to supply lumber needs to finish boardwalk work.
Power, Water, and Communications
We're still working on getting power, water, and communications restored. Swanson Electrical is generously loaning us a generator capable of powering our water plant to provide water pressure for our restrooms. We might have that in place soon.
We're working to rebuild the mailbox today!
Inspiration and Gratitude
Our staff and volunteers continue to inspire each other by their commitment to the Sanctuary and the birds and wildlife that live and visit here. Generous volunteers and donors are expediting recovery efforts, and we are very grateful. To make a gift that goes directly and quickly to Audubon's Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, visit corkscrew.audubon.org/irma.
Pending Recovery Activities
Here's a list of pending recovery activities still ahead of us:
- The parking lot and front campus: Log removal, branch and debris removal, a little chainsaw work.
- Back campus: debris removal about dorm, office, lab, etc. and chainsaw work.
- Insect Adventure Trails – still partially flooded, need to have trees cut and debris removed.
- Additional boardwalk debris clearing is needed for the long loop. However, several trees are down along this route and will not be cut and removed for several days.
- Hurricane shutters need to be removed and stored.
- Other backcountry trail clearing is needed.
September 18, 2017 Update
Thank you to our growing crew of staff and volunteers who’ve been out to help! Here's the Sept. 18, 2017 update from Audubon's Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary:
Short Loop Progress and Bee Tree
Today, our team finished opening and clearing the short loop (via the bypass), and all that remains blocking the path is the one massive Bee Tree. We're getting professionals involved for some of the larger trees like this one. The Sanctuary is expediting the Bee Tree to get the short loop opened for visitors as soon as possible.
Our boardwalks are made out of Ipe wood, and we have enough on hand to finish the short loop. However, we will need to order more to make boardwalk repairs to the long loop. We also have crews coming to make professional repairs to the handrails and side rails later this week, and our team is working with our volunteer corps for additional rebuild needs.
Power, Water, and Communications
The power company has shared that it may be three to four weeks before power is fully restored to the Sanctuary. We're working to use a combination of generator and solar power for basic needs, but we're not able to reroute and harness our solar directly to our main visitor center, the Blair Audubon Center. Audubon was also approached by FEMA about our site serving as a housing station for a recovery team. We are happy to, but will need to wait until we have power and water before we can do that. We're working quickly to get power, water, and communications restored.
Our onsite gas tank is empty, and the diesel tank is low. In the interim, our team has been filling cans at a local gas station to run our chainsaws and generators.
Irma Relief News and Gifts
We're receiving a small influx of gifts to support Audubon's Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary during our recovery. Gifts will be used towards our recovery, operating and research efforts. Thank you to those of you have generously made a gift to Audubon's Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. All gifts made at corkscrew.audubon.org/Irma go directly and quickly to the Sanctuary.
The Naples Daily News also highlighted some our recovery efforts. Be sure to check out their article.
We've seen many supporters and Sanctuary admirers answer the call to help us recover. We're glad to report that the Bunting House has a generator-powered A/C unit for volunteers to rest from the hot Florida sun. Large water jugs are stationed there to fill the toilet tank since we do not have water/power yet. Our recovery wouldn't be possible without these hard-working volunteers!
Thank you to George Wilder and Jean McCollom for your help surveying for additional rare plants in the Sanctuary and for your contribution to the Naples Daily News story!
This is just the beginning. In addition to the rest of the boardwalk, we have approx. 28 miles of fire lanes and buggy trails that will also have a lot of trees down. The Sanctuary will need chainsaw-skilled staff and volunteers to help with this monumental need for weeks and months to come. We'll also need people who can help keep our chainsaws running. First priority will be to clear the route to Eagle Island Curve so our resource management team can jump back on the popcorn sedge, and if we still have sunflowers, to open the sunflower route. Researchers will also have additional priority routes to open to access the PI marshes for treatment. We are getting backlogged on Resource Management needs and continue to need your thoughts and support.
Sept. 15, 2017 Update
A team of hard-working Audubon staff and volunteers have managed to clear trees and debris that were blocking entry to the library and center. They did this all without A/C, power or cell service! Staff and volunteers have also cleared the boardwalk from the Bunting House entrance up to the shortcut then along the shortcut and up to the bypass trail. The usual route between the bypass path has multiple large trees down, and a tree removal company will be out soon. Audubon's Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary remains closed, but we hope to partially open once it is safe to do so and power has is restored.
Before Hurricane Irma arrived, the team at Audubon's Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary thoroughly prepared by securing buildings and vehicles throughout the campus. Tree limbs, trees coming down, and loss of electricity always remain storm concerns at the sanctuary. An initial assessment after the hurricane revealed significant tree damage and downed trees throughout the campus, including one hung up on a power line. Local utility officials are aware and will get to it as quickly as able. Luckily, no buildings were damaged, but the boardwalk was significantly damaged. Two Landmark Trees are down: Da Vinci and Guy Bradley. The remaining 10 are fine. The tree which hosts the super ghost is also okay, but we have not been able to confirm the orchid is still present due to conditions on the boardwalk. There are several locations where trees came down and damaged the iconic boardwalk. Some of those spots will require a complete rebuild of that section of the boardwalk.