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Clemson architecture students design bridges and drainage to rebuild SC Botanical Gardens

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CLEMSON, S.C. - After a nearly unprecedented flood destroyed the site, the South Carolina Botanical Garden is almost as good as new — because of the work of more than a dozen Clemson University architecture students.

While garden staff worked to restore the thousands of plant species wiped out by the July 2013 flood, the students spent the past year designing and building trails, bridges and drainage plans for the garden on the edge of campus. They finished their work last week.

"It's cool to know that 30 or 40 years from now, I can come back here and see some of my work at my alma mater and know people are still appreciating it," said William Craig, a student from Lexington who ran the "C'' flag on the field during Clemson football games last fall.

The garden was destroyed when a rainy summer culminated with a freak storm that dumped 8 inches of rain on campus and the garden in four hours on July 13, 2013. Engineers called it a once-in-787-years flood that overwhelmed any drainage on campus. Water rushed into the pond at the garden and topped the dam, sending more than 100 million gallons of water into the low area where the garden sits.

About 30 per cent of the garden's 8,000 different plant species disappeared in minutes, South Carolina Botanical Garden Manager John Bodiford said. Trails and bridges were obliterated too.

Clean up had just started about two weeks later when another freak storm dumped 6 inches of rain in hours, causing even more damage and threatening the Hunt Cabin, a log cabin built in 1825.

"We were determined to rebuild, but we had no idea what we were going to do," Bodiford said.

That's when the garden director got on the phone with an architecture professor he knew. They worked out a plan so graduate students could spend the year on projects to rebuild trails, create signs and design and build bridges and revamp the garden's drainage so runoff was more spread out and didn't funnel directly into the garden.

One student studied where every drop of rain on campus went, determining that Clemson parking cars on nearby Kite Hill packed in the dirt, making it harder for rain to absorb and forcing more stormwater downhill into the garden, Craig said.

The students widened the runoff channels so rainwater washed down over the entire 100-acre garden and surrounding area instead of the narrow channel that made the flood worse. Craig said.

The students also designed a lasting memorial to the flood. It is a working sculpture that visitors can use to recreate the disaster. Rainwater collects in a metal "cloud" at the top of the artwork, or visitors can turn a crank to pull water from the pond to make the cloud fill faster. When it is full, the cloud dumps a flood on a piece of metal moulded into the contours of the garden, much like the July 2013 flood slammed through the site. It serves as a reminder of how man cannot control Mother Nature.

The university and private donors raised $225,000 to repair the damage, and gardens from across the country gave plants to refill the garden's collections.

"I cannot brag on these kids and thank them enough," Bodiford said. "They have been so professional and done such a great job. We couldn't have bounced back without them."

And it wasn't just a project on paper. The students built the bridges and trails themselves, securing wood and welding the joints, said student Brittany Cohen of Buffalo.

"It's been hot and sweaty work," Cohen said, showing off one of the bridges. "This is the first time I've been clean all summer."

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