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Uplands Mourns Loss of Trees

Written by on Friday, June 28, 2024

A memorial will be held on Sunday commemorating pines and palms cut by New College.

By Tyler Oldano

Original Air Date: June 28, 2024

Host: Since late May, the normally quiet Uplands neighborhood has been buzzing with activity. That activity is the tree cutting and bulldozing of the Uplands Preserve, a large stretch of campus greenspace that separates the neighborhood from Sarasota Bay. The neighbors fought against the tree cutting, but after back and forth between the city and New College the yellow backhoes continued. A defiant community is now switching to mourning, and our Tyler Oldano has the details.

Tyler Oldano: On May 15, residents of the Uplands neighborhood woke up to a startling sound. Right across the street, a natural preserve that’s been kept intact for decades, was being cleared. The trees and grass being replaced by a soccer and volleyball field.

Zita Conner: Neighbors started texting saying that the trees are coming down. And we just ran outside and we screamed and we scrambled. We didn’t know what to do. so everybody just started taking pictures and going down. Some people called 911.

TO: That is Zita Conner; she has been living  right across the street from the Uplands Preserve for decades. She says that every time there’s been a change to the land, New College has notified them. S No notice was given last month when she says new college started around 40 trees.

Uplands Residents protesting

ZC: They just all of a sudden start doing it. So we’re caught off guard. Don’t know what to expect in it. It hurts. It hurts. You know, we’ve always been good neighbors, New College and us. And now it’s just, well, hard.

TO: To her, the Uplands Preserve was more than just a piece of nature. She says she made countless memories there with her daughter years ago, flying kites and playing in the grass. To Conners, it’s places like the preserve that best represent the state’s beauty.

ZC: You know, it’s just it just Florida. It’s not fake. Florida like Disneyworld and all their plants and perfect manicured. It just it was real Florida. And that’s what I really love about it.

TO: Today though, the grass alongside some 40 palm trees and slash pines that had been there since before the Ringling brothers built their mansions,  are gone, replaced with sand, and a chain-linked fence that lines the perimeter. Another neighbor, Karen Stack, says the feeling of loss runs deep.

Karen Stack: We couldn’t be sadder, and for what? For a sports field that would do just as well. And any other big lot of land

TO: The trees were cleared for beach volleyball courts  and a soccer field, but it joins an effort to expand New College closer to the bay. Their plans for a  Freedom Institute – the biggest building yet on the campus – were  unveiled back in March, and it’s slated to go up right alongside the bay and on top of natural wetlands. The Freedom Institute was unveiled with little to no notice to those living next door, with details to follow. The lack of notice shocks Conner.

ZC: Well, for me personally, I feel like we’re just being stepped on. We’ve never, you know, we’re we’re used to dealing with the old, New College. And when they’d have these campus masterplan updates, there would always be, signs posted. And they wanted our involvement to hear from us. And this is just totally the exact opposite. We have no idea what they’re going to do.

TO: It’s those feelings Conner and Stack tried to sort through in the following days. It all culminated in a meeting many of those living in the neighborhood attended. They gathered in Stack’s home, sharing stories and talking through their thoughts on what happened to the preserve. While they were mourning the loss, the meeting fostered a sense of connection, and Stack says the meeting showed just how many other people felt the same way as them.

KS: This is a very angry time in U.S. history where people are polarized on one side of the political spectrum and the other, on the economic spectrums from poor to richer. this neighborhood represents a fair bit of diversity. But on this one issue, we are solidly united in our concern about what’s happening

TO: At the meeting, Conner and Stack saw both familiar and unfamiliar faces, all brought together by the destruction of the greenspace. Despite the unity though, Stack wishes they could have met under better circumstances.

KS: We could have just had a picnic and we would have met each other hopefully, and not have had to deal with the loss of that. We cannot remedy or repair. Honestly, those trees are gone. They’re in a dumpster somewhere or getting spread out somewhere.

TO: But it was at that meeting Connor says that they found a special way to channel that loss.

ZC: And somebody mentioned, why don’t we have a celebration of life, you know?

TO: And so they began planning a memorial to help sort through the feelings that flowed through the community. They’re not celebrating the trees alone though. To Conner,the birds and other animals who called the land home, are notably absent after the removal.

ZC: All of the birds, morning and night, even, you know, the insects. It was just it was life. And now it’s just it’s silent. It just… sat

TO: When it comes to the memorial itself, they’ve invited more than just neighbors. They reached out to New College alums, local politicians, and environmental groups. To Stack, the issue goes beyond just the local area.

KS: For us, this is very local, but it represents a direction that our country is going where we’re no longer honoring what’s here and part of Mother Earth.

TO: The memorial also looks to protect what little land is left of the preserve. The land to its north, where the memorial is being held on Sunday , is still intact. While USF manages the northern side of the preserve, Conners wants  to ensure it doesn’t suffer the same fate.

ZC: We still have some of it left here. So we want to celebrate the life of what was there and celebrate the life of what’s still here and hope that will remain.

TO: In the end, Conner and Stack say that they want people to leave the memorial with a sense of hope for a brighter future and a remembrance for what was lost.

ZC: We just can’t give up hope, right? Can’t we can’t let them kill our spirit, right? We’re always hopeful. Can’t give that up.

TO: The memorial will be held 4:30 PM Sunday at the Uplands Preserve, across from 8477 Uplands Boulevard.

Reporting from New College, Tyler Oldano, WSLR.


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