Many Floridians still have vivid memories of the 2004 hurricane season. Four hurricanes struck Florida that year with three storms leaving their mark across Central Florida. August 13, 2014 marks the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Charley making landfall on the West Coast of Florida, beginning its damaging race across the state. The speed of the storm meant hurricane force winds impacted even the central portion of the state, ripping apart regions which had not been seriously affected by storms since Hurricane Donna in 1960 and Hurricane Elena in 1985.
Rumors of the Tower’s demise spread quickly, but staff and friends of the Gardens soon saw the Tower still stood. Many of the trees filling the Gardens were not as fortunate. On August 14, 2004, the cleanup of the Gardens began. Staff and hundreds of volunteers donned their gloves and picked up shovels, chain-saws, and clippers to attack the massive amounts of debris choking the landscape. Regional gardens sent crews to help with the overwhelming process. This included a group from Fairchild Botanical Gardens which had been affected by Hurricane Andrew in 1992 (a group from Bok Tower Gardens assisted in their cleanup then).
In the midst of cleanup from Charley, Polk County felt the effects of Frances September 4-6. Because of the tree damage from Charley, though, Frances caused little additional damage. The Gardens partially reopened September 11, 2004, four weeks after Charley. Just over two weeks later, Jeanne followed almost directly in the path of Frances, once again closing the Gardens. Finally, on October 2, 2004, Bok Tower Gardens reopened her gates to the public. While the scars of the storms were visible, the newly opened vistas were breathtaking. Altogether, the Gardens lost more than 200 trees that season, sustaining damage to the entire grounds of about $1.5 million. Through it all, though, the Tower stood as a symbol to many of the strength and beauty of Florida that would return.
Take a moment to see how Bok Tower Gardens has healed over the past ten years and to think about our future as we continue to grow.