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Trees cut by New College get memorial service

Written by on Thursday, July 4, 2024

Neighbors gathered in the rain to remember destroyed nature preserve.

By Tyler Oldano

Original Air Date: July 3, 2024

Host: Since May, one area around New College has seen quite a bit of activity. For years the land remained unused, being populated with trees and other greenery. Those living in a nearby neighborhood grew attached to the greenspace, but Just over a month ago, those living nearby awoke to the sound of back-hoes, tearing up the trees, preparing the land for a new development. While the neighbors tried to keep the land intact, their attempts were unsuccessful, and now they are in mourning. Tyler Oldano has the details.

[sound of rainfall]

Tyler Oldano: On a rainy Sunday afternoon in Sarasota, just after 4:30, a memorial was held in the Uplands neighborhood.

David Anderson: At a time when some of the strongest feelings that we’re feeling are rage and powerlessness and sense of injustice, it’s really important to take some time to feel the quieter, softer feelings.

TO: Those are the words of David Anderson. He, along with 50 other people gathered at the home of Karen Stack, across from the Uplands Preserve, to mourn. There wasn’t a casket though, and while it was a memorial, it wasn’t for a family member or close friend. Those in attendance gathered in remembrance of something else: up to 100 trees recently cut by New College, most of them at the Uplands Preserve. Susie Wills, a hospice chaplain, delivered the first eulogy.

Susie Wills: We are gathered here today to honor the lives and mourn the loss of some neighbors. These are living beings just like we are. And the loss of living beings is something that is just as devastating to the world system as it is to us and our own circle of friends and family.

TO: The trees have been a part of the Uplands Preserve for decades, with some even being in place before the Ringling brothers built their mansions nearby. That all changed last month though, when New College began their expansion into the Uplands Preserve, turning the greenery that many of the locals loved into a soccer field and beach volleyball courts. Those living near the preserve tried to fight New College’s expansion, but they only delayed the removal. New College alum Jono Miller says however, that’s not what the memorial is about.

Jono Miller: This is not a time to blame yourselves if you tried to stop this madness. Thank you. If you didn’t, that’s okay too. The facts are, dozens of people tried multiple creative strategies, and for a variety of reasons, none of them worked.

TO: At the memorial, neighbors, New College professors, and graduates shared their memories of the fallen foliage. Some of the neighbors in attendance have lived by the preserve for forty years, and say that the preserve has always been a place of refuge on the water. One former New College student, David Anderson, says that the preserve held a special place in his heart.

Sheridan Murphy

DA: It was just a wonderful experience. And over the years, the uplands became really a kind of a place where I would go for solitude, and to contemplate and to digest the things that I was learning and what was happening in my life at the time. And it actually happened to be where I was when I got a call from my mom, that my grandfather was in his final moments and so I actually got to spend a little time on the phone with him, just before he passed.

TO: It wasn’t just neighbors and New College Alumni who were at the memorial though. More than fifty people were at the memorial. The rain and thunder didn’t stop them from coming together and sharing their thoughts. One of those remembering the fallen trees was Sheridan Murphy, a member of the Lakota tribe and executive director of the American Indian Movement in Florida. He remembered Lakota warriors who were defending their land and nature, and he had words of encouragement for those who were keeping up the fight.

Jinx Ashforth

Sheridan Murphy: But all y’all have been here and out there. You’re taking your power back. You just got to keep it going. Because the more of us to take our power back, and the more of us that begin to understand our relationship as a human being, it’s not a demo public in our repo thing. It’s a human being thing.

TO: Jinx Ashforth is a New College alumna and Uplands resident. She says that she’s not allowed on New College property anymore due to her filming of the tree cutting. Even if she’s not allowed on the property, she refuses to give up.

Jinx Ashforth: So they’re going to keep destroying. Right? But we can create the story of them destroying. We can preserve what we love, right? We can keep the story of the trees alive in us. That’s what I’m doing.

TO: Even though the fight for the preserve is a local problem, Susie Wells says that it goes beyond just this one instance.

SW: This is an issue that is facing all of life, not just human life, animal life, plants, the earth, the air, the water.

TO: Just because the memorial is over, doesn’t mean that the fight is over though. At the memorial, organizers sold signs that promoted the memory of the preserve and they encouraged others to keep sharing their stories with the community. On Friday, a small Uplands and New College delegation traveled all the way to Orlando, to speak before the Board of Governors, the state institution that governs public colleges in Florida. Jono Miller was able to get on the record, questioning New College’s tree cutting, before the board’s lawyer intervened. When others tried to speak, they were escorted out by police.

Reporting in Sarasota, Tyler Oldano, WSLR.


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