Recently destroyed Pit is worth fighting for

One day in late August, I walked by the area commonly called the Pit to find that all but the most insignificant trees lining its rim had been felled. I sat on a step beside the area with mixed emotions, most of the negative ones being geared toward whoever had operated the chainsaws that put the ficus and palms to their fate in the depression.

Why had this happened? I unwisely jumped to the conclusion that, once the tree trunks that rats now scrambled upon had been covered with soil, sod would be put over one of the best spots on campus to set a nice canvas for yet another FIU style-biting sculpture. The notorious but glorious stoner associations that The Pit had earned, fueled by rumors of Janis Joplin and/or Sylvester Stallone’s toking at the site, had, I worried, finally brought the Man’s hard hand down on the Pit. I shuddered at the thought of having to pass by yet another rusty, phallic sculpture on campus, this time on a grave.

As I was unversed in how to wedge out answers from the UM administrative strata, I took the step that I saw most fit for someone who puts off phone conversations strategically: I posed an electronic question to the most relevant information resource I could find, askUM on the homepage. My query, a few sentences ending with “What does the University intend to do with the [pit] area?”, was met with a response eight days later (not the “two business days” that had been claimed, but I’m not punctual myself). What is significant, though, is that in those eight days, Hurricane Katrina came through.

Katrina made the response I received very confusing. An administrator for the askUM service claimed on Aug. 30 that “The trees around the pit were destroyed by a nasty storm. Unfortunately, over the last few days many more trees were also destroyed. The University is currently evaluating how to best restore damaged trees.”

I was pleased with the fact that trees would be replanted, but what was this “nasty storm” they were talking about? What kind of a storm took out just the trees around the pit?

Things got more mysterious and less optimistic when I received another e-mail the same day from askUM that paraphrased a response that came directly from a Real Estate, Campus Planning and Construction official of UM. The words that impacted me most read: “A simple visual inspection [of the pit] appears not to warrant its recreation with ficus trees and sabal palm,” and later “the distinctive features of the sinkhole always seem to be the foliage…and that is now totally gone. Unless there is a documented value to the hole from a historic/archeological and/or student life perspective, I would suggest that we consider filling it in and landscaping as we do other areas of campus.”

It appeared as though I was right. The Pit would be covered in emerald green sod and the lawn-extending would begin.

In my search for information about the Pit’s geologic value, which was an aspect that seemed important to the Pit’s fate for the administration, I learned a lot. Blase Maffia, a UM biology lecturer, said, “The Pit is a unique geologic feature right on campus. It would be a shame to fill it in.” Pamela Reid, an associate professor, was equally passionate in an e-mail correspondence: “The Pit has long been one of my favorite places on campus and I regularly take students there on field trips-it is a spectacular example of a sink hole and has great exposures of the Miami oolite, the 125,000-year-old limestone on which the University of Miami campus is built.” I’m down with oolite too, Dr. Reid.

Happy yet somewhat nebulous conclusions about the Pit came in staggered succession into my mailbox until I was finally satisfied Oct. 10, over a month after my first query was posed. First, I heard that trees would definitely be planted around the pit. Second, a director for contract administration e-mailed me and specified that it was Tropical Storm Dennis that originally took down the trees by the pit (and then, I assume, every single damaged tree was sawed down) and finished with a clear message: “We would never take down trees before a storm.” That’s what I wanted to hear.

Ryan Eavey can be contacted at