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GAYS MILLS — A decade and four floods have changed the landscape of Gays Mills.

The village, nestled into the bluffs of Crawford County along the Kickapoo River, has seen a lot of changes since the 2007 flood, the 2008 flood less than 10 months later and the relocation to higher ground of a number of residents and businesses tired of being washed out. The town lost nearly a third of its people after those events, and some of those who remain are divided about the new Gays Mills.

More than 7.4 inches of rain fell overnight Aug. 18, 2007, causing a flash flood with waters up to people's armpits. Harry Heisz, today's village president and a volunteer with the community's fire department, said the fast-moving waters made it risky to reach people trapped in their homes and move them to safety. The water came so fast that there was no warning, he said, and rescuers were going out in boats to help get people out of trees.

Less than 10 months later, another flood came, but this time the village had much more warning. Rain from showers and storms drenched the region with more than 7 inches of rain in parts, and the Kickapoo began to rise again, spilling over its banks and filling the downtown once again with water.

This was a breaking point for some living in the village, as several property owners hadn't even gotten back into their homes before the flooding came again. People started leaving the village, which saw its population drop nearly a third from an estimate of 619 in 2007 to 491 according to the 2010 Census.

For others, talk turned serious about moving those in the flood plain to higher ground. Village staff worked with state and federal agencies including FEMA, the Community Development Block Grant Program and the Wisconsin DNR to help move residents down the highway and up the hill in the village.

Money from these agencies helped buy out businesses or provide them with low-interest loans, Heisz said. A number of town anchors made the move including the Steve Mickelson's grocery story, The Marketplace, that also partnered to bring a new gas station to town. The Crawford Independent, the community's newspaper, as well as other businesses including Lana's Family Hair Care, moved into the village's new Gays Mills Mercantile building, just down the hill from the village's new residential developments.

Mickelson said the 2007 flood caused a large loss of business, as more than 4 inches of water flowed into the grocery store's old location on Main Street. He also lost all of his perishable items when the town lost power for several days during and after the flood.

Then in 2008, water came into the building again. The power stayed on this time, but the building sustained structural damage each time it flooded, and Mickelson said he was about ready to call it quits.

"There were just too many losses," he said. "After putting so much money and effort into it, I just wanted to never see it return."

Now the business is humming in its new location, with customers coming in and out for groceries, gas or fresh deli items. The community has been very supportive, he said, and it's a great boon for the village to have a grocery store, something very few small towns can boast these days.

The downtown hasn't fared as well, with empty lots in between those businesses' that stayed on Main Street. Empty homes or lots also sit on some of the side streets, as people move to the newer properties up the road on the hill.

One of those who decided to stay was Joe Brandt, who has owned the Village Greenhouse on Main Street for more than 33 years. Flooding has become par for the course, he said, with four major floods hitting the village during the past 10 years, with one canceling the village's annual Apple Festival last September and another 100-year flood this past July.

Brandt said he built his business more than 3 feet above the flood plain, so he has never had any water get into the store, but 2007 and 2008 were the years where it was the closest. There isn't much left, he lamented, but Gays Mills is still a beautiful community, and he'd rather be on Main Street, where his business belongs.

"It is a total drag," he said, "but I'll just have to keep on keeping on."

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Nathan Hansen has been the Education Reporter for the Tribune since 2014. Prior to that, he covered education, agriculture and business topics for the Winona Daily News. He is always on the lookout for news tips and can be contacted at 608-791-8234.

(4) comments

crank

Gosh! What's happened in the past 10 years to suddenly cause such flooding in Gays Mills???? Must be global warming! Wait... Didn't floods hit the town in 1907, 1912, 1917, 1935, 1951, 1970, 1978... AND SO ON!

Here's a link to photo of downtown Gays Mills in 1970...
http://journaltimes.com/gays-mills-flooding-s/image_df102a83-910f-5279-9ac2-4839749df36b.html

It has always been bad, so much so, that they were going to build a dam near LaFarge to control the floods and kicked 140 families off their land in the 60's. The dam was never built and those people never got their land back. http://kvr.state.wi.us/About-Us/History/La-Farge-Dam-Project/

But global warming is causing these floods due to the torrential rains! Yeah, yeah... The flooding has been a problem for over 100 years. Another town in the area, Soldiers Grove, got a frickin' clue and MOVED THE ENTIRE town away from the flood-prone Kickapoo River. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soldiers_Grove,_Wisconsin

Flooding along the Mississippi isn't new either. Old-timers in La Crosse will tell you. Heck, the Tribune probably has an archive full of photos.

Did you know a large area in Prairie du Chien was abandoned because it was so prone to flooding. St. Feriole Island flooded so regularly that they finally abandoned the area and tore down all the houses. They left all the streets, sidewalks and the trees that filled the neighborhood. It's spooky. The ghosts all moved into the Villa Louis. The Tribune should do a story about the ghosts!

Global warming devastated the area... (and Trump did nothing.)https://www.bigrivermagazine.com/feriole.html

Prairie du Chien flooding way back in 1965... (Why on earth haven't we done anything about global warming??? It's causing floods!) https://issuu.com/courierpress/docs/flood

It's high time to institute that carbon tax to put a halt to the devastation and save Gays Mills.

crank

Gosh! What's happened in the past 10 years to suddenly cause such flooding in Gays Mills???? Must be global warming! Wait... Didn't floods hit the town in 1907, 1912, 1917, 1935, 1951, 1970, 1978... AND SO ON!

Here's a link to photo of downtown Gays Mills in 1970...
http://journaltimes.com/gays-mills-flooding-s/image_df102a83-910f-5279-9ac2-4839749df36b.html>

It has always been bad, so much so, that they were going to build a dam near LaFarge to control the floods and kicked 140 families off their land in the 60's. The dam was never built and those people never got their land back. http://kvr.state.wi.us/About-Us/History/La-Farge-Dam-Project/

But global warming is causing these floods due to the torrential rains! Yeah, yeah... The flooding has been a problem for over 100 years. Another town in the area, Soldiers Grove, got a frickin' clue and MOVED THE ENTIRE town away from the flood-prone Kickapoo River. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soldiers_Grove,_Wisconsin

Flooding along the Mississippi isn't new either. Old-timers in La Crosse will tell you. Heck, the Tribune probably has an archive full of photos.

Did you know a large area in Prairie du Chien was abandoned because it was so prone to flooding. St. Feriole Island flooded so regularly that they finally abandoned the area and tore down all the houses. They left all the streets, sidewalks and the trees that filled the neighborhood. It's spooky. The ghosts all moved into the Villa Louis. The Tribune should do a story about the ghosts!

Global warming devastated the area... (and Trump did nothing.)https://www.bigrivermagazine.com/feriole.html

Prairie du Chien flooding way back in 1965... (Why on earth haven't we done anything about global warming??? It's causing floods!) https://issuu.com/courierpress/docs/flood

It's high time to institute that carbon tax to put a halt to the devastation and save Gays Mills.

canman

At least most of the town was realistic to move to higher ground, this saving FEMA tax dollars to repair the reoccurring flood issue. If more people would be better stewards of tax dollars, other public projects could be done. Kudos to Gays Mills.

oldhomey

Amen, canman.

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