Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Wisconsin Dells flood as Lake Delton drains the life out of local tourism

Today's google trends lesson: Always think twice when you invest in shorefont property.

There is heartache this week in the Wisconsin Dells, where Lake Delton, Upper Spring Lake and other smaller bodies of water in the area have broken through their previous barriers to drain into the Wisconsin River. I don't know these places, but it sounds like a lot of water. Houses have been washed away, leaving their luxury lakefront living infrastructure as a lurking menace to the local tourism industry.

I experienced successive floods of similar magnitude as a kid growing up in the desert town of Lake Elsinore, California in the late 1970s. What I remember most about those times is that we didn't have to go to school. Actually, we couldn't go to school (even if we wanted to) because each of the 4 roads that ran around the dying lake our town was named for had all been washed out. For a kid it was all very exciting, and then a few years later it happened again.

But for the local economy it was disastrous. All of the most valuable lakefront homes - built closer and closer to the shore as the lake got smaller and smaller each year - were now under water. So were their septic tanks, their chain link fences, and the trees in their front yards. It took the local tourism and recreation industry more than 5 years to start recovering. Though no longer dying, our lake and it's shore became completely unsafe for people to use. A boy actually died at our 8th grade graduation picnic on the lakeshore, when the clothes he was swimming in got caught on a submerged chain link fence.

My heart goes out to the population in and around the Wisconsin Dells. Just like Lake Elsinore eventually did, they will get through this disaster and recover - Mother Nature is sometimes unforgiving (perhaps especially when you live in waterfront property), but people are surprisingly resilient. Thank God nobody has been hurt. Once the shorelines have gotten over their identity crisis and redefined themselves, communities will rebuild. Towns will be reborn, and the flood (and related events) will become a part of some childrens' collective memory.

Another flood story to be told... as it was in the beginning and forever shall be. And yet, some people never learn.

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