Rising Above the Flood: Gays Mills rebuilds

Rising Above the Flood: Gays Mills...

GAYS MILLS, Wis. (WKBT) - This month marks the 10th anniversary of flooding that left extensive damage across our region.

The National Weather Service described it as "rainfall and flooding of historic proportions,” with up to 17 inches of rain in some areas.

In 2007 and 2008, flooding from the Kickapoo River in the small village of Gays Mills in Crawford County destroyed dozens of homes and shut down a number of businesses.

Many residents were sick of all the flooding and decided to leave town, but those who stayed have worked hard to rebuild a safer community.

"It's beautiful here, and it's worth everything,” resident Sandi Reitzloff said.

Reitzloff knew what she was getting into when she moved to Gays Mills 11 1/2 years ago.

"Beauty and water,” she said.

It's a village many spend their whole lives in, despite frequent episodes of major flooding dating back over a century.

"Most of them, it's their life, where they've grown up,” former village President Larry McCarn said.  "You don't get used to it, you just make do with it."

Residents are still feeling the impact of a decade-old flood.

"Oh yes, definitely,” McCarn said.

McCarn was village president during the floods of '07 and '08, and said they've left a hole in the community.

 "You can feel it by certain things,” he said. Things like empty lots are lasting proof of more than 50 building demolitions, and population signs that used to note more than 600 people now display 491.

McCarn said many homeowners took government buyouts and got out of town.

“They just were tired of it,” he said.

Some business owners were tired too.

In 2007, Steven Mickelson owned the village's grocery store, but flood damage was getting to be too much.

"It was time to move either close or move,” he said.

He knew the village needed a grocery store, so he relocated to higher ground in Gays Mills. The Marketplace opened in 2011.

"I think the future actually is bright for Gays Mills,” Mickelson said. “The people in general here are pretty tough.”

Since the floods, there are new businesses, a new village hall and a new EMT building located on a hill away from the river.

Many, including Reitzloff, stayed near the river. According to the village, 19 homes there have been elevated and flood-proofed.

For others, more than a dozen new homes and apartments on the hill offer extra protection.

"We just keep fighting,” Reitzloff said.

They’re marks of resiliency that not even floodwaters can wash away.

"It's just our home,” Reitzloff said. “It's worth a little water."

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