Where do we begin to describe the great flood of 2018?
There are iconic scenes that will stick with us, recorded forever (hopefully) in today’s technology by anyone and everyone with a phone in their pocket or purse.
There is the video of the Red Angus bull standing in the middle of the bridge in Coon Valley with that “I’m here now and it’s a lot better than where I was before and nobody is moving me” look in its eyes. (What ever happened to that magnificent animal? That question seems to be floating around a week after the waters subsided.)
Then there is the photo of the highway sign in Ontario that alerts viewers that Highway 131 going to La Farge is a right turn. When the photo was first posted online, some people did not see the picnic table covered with flood trash sitting on top of the sign – indicating the record setting level of water in Ontario. A week after that record setting floodwater, Hwy 131 remains closed between there and Rockton as several bridge areas of the highway received significant damage from the floodwaters. Maybe that photo was trying to say that it would be no picnic trying to travel the road south to La Farge.
For Viola, perhaps the enduring memory will be that waterline on the brick walls of the Iron Horse Saloon building on the village’s main Commerical Street. The water line, with the water soaked red bricks below delineates the heights of the Kickapoo’s record crest in that town. An after effect of the great flood for Viola is another cancelled “Horse & Colt Show” – the second time in three years. (The 2016 Horse & Colt Show also had to be cancelled because of flooding – which was the first time in nearly 80 years of having to cancel the annual fall festival.) That celebration is a homecoming for many and will be sorely missed.
In La Farge, perhaps the scene captured of the yellow storage building located next to Nuzum’s floating in the middle of Highway 82 between the lumberyard and Organic Valley’s cheese factory building is the one to remember. As the record setting floodwaters receded the building was moved into a spot in front of the car wash. That building dates back to the railroad days in La Farge (The last train left town in 1939.) when railroad cars could be unloaded of their cargo into the storage building. Now the concrete foundation piers where the shed sat are a historic reminder of the old railroad days in the Kickapoo Valley.
The great Kickapoo River flood of 1935 was the beginning of the end (or perhaps the end of the end) for the Kickapoo railroad line. Despite efforts by village leaders in La Farge and other Kickapoo Valley communities to get some flood control measures through federal programs, the railroad was soon a thing of the past. That flood of 1935 was the standard for measuring flood events until the great flood of 1978, which was surpassed by the great flood of 2008, nearly topped by the great flood of 2017, and now has been eclipsed by the Great Kickapoo River Flood of 2018.
When the big floods come, the Kickapoo washes away more than ever comes back.
That old saying from over a century ago about flooding in the Kickapoo Valley was included in the prelude to Volume I of my La Farge history. Already rumors are circulating about businesses in Ontario, Viola and Readstown that will not reopen because of the great flood of 2018. People who lived in flood-ravaged homes along the river in towns from Wilton to Wauzeka don’t want to return to their former residences. How many people who lived in La Farge in 2008 and were affected by the flood left the village? What will it be like this year? Some people cannot return to their homes because the damage is so great. Everyone is beaten down by the terrible floodwaters. Morale is low for many. This is the third straight year for bad flooding on the Kickapoo. When will it ever stop?
The recent 2016-18 flooding on the Kickapoo is eerily similar to the flooding of a decade past. In 2007, 2008 and 2010, the Kickapoo Valley experienced bad flood events with the flooding of June 2018 being an all-time record setter until the most recent flood. At the time, people of the Valley were wondering what was going on. Was this climate change at its worst?
At one of the Driftless Dialogue talks held at the Kickapoo Valley Reserve several years ago, a speaker from UW-Madison (we think it was Stanley Temple) discussed the causes and effects of the flooding in the Kickapoo Valley between 2007 and 2010. The main thing that we took away from the talk was that the Kickapoo Valley could expect more of these flood events because of the changes occurring in weather patterns caused by climate change. The unique and hilly topography of the Kickapoo Valley also was a factor in the intensity of the flooding. At the time, I wasn’t sure if this theory about continued flood events in the Kickapoo Valley would prevail, but perhaps it is playing out right in front of us once again.
We will have to have more on this flooding on the Kickapoo next time.