Flood Watch Continues at Heartland National Parks

Unusually heavy rainfall in the upper Midwest has sent rivers over their banks in Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan. This historic flooding has caused serious problems for industry, transportation systems, farmers, and many thousands of people in cities and towns along the rivers and in the flood plains. The worst is yet to come for many downstream communities in the Mississippi River drainage, since rain-gorged rivers will not be cresting in various stretches until midweek or even later. The ground is already saturated, so each new rainfall episode yields immediate runoff from the waterlogged soil and creates even more problems for downstream communities.

It’s “so far, so good” for the national parks in the affected area of the Heartland. While several units have reported threatening situations, only George Rogers Clark National Historical Park in southwestern Indiana has experienced significant flooding on the premises, and it’s really not all that bad.

George Rogers Clark National Historical Park, which commemorates the February 1779 American capture of a strategic British fort, is situated on the Wabash River in southwestern Indiana. The Wabash was more than 20 feet above flood stage in the park vicinity when it crested this past weekend. The park experiences a high water episode nearly every year, but this flood, the worst since at least 1950, may have established a new record for the park.

The river breached a retaining wall at the park, sending floodwater unto parkland along the shoreline. Only a few of the park’s 26 acres were inundated, however, and while a sinkhole created by a sewer line break collapsed part of the parking lot, no critical resources were affected.

The park remains open, with security barriers in place to keep visitors away from the flooded shoreline. It’s pretty much business as usual. The park's chief ranger, Frank Doughman, reports that the weather has cleared and there's no immediate danger of further flooding.

Elsewhere in the Heartland, several park units are keeping a watchful eye on nearby rivers and the regional weather forecast. There has been no flooding at Effigy Mounds National Monument in northeast Iowa, but a few trees have been downed and some trail sections have been washed out.

Herbert Hoover National Historical Site, which is in West Branch, Iowa, about ten miles east of hard-hit Iowa City, does not occupy a flood-vulnerable site. However, widespread flooding in the area has forced road and bridge closings that have made it very difficult for anybody but local residents to get to the park. Because it is in a safe location, the park is presently providing vital temporary quarters and related services for flood-monitoring USGS personnel displaced by the serious flooding in Iowa City.