Rising above August flooding, Coon Valley finds sign of hope

All this week, we’ve been taking a look back at how historic flooding one year ago impacted communities in the Coulee Region. For the last story in our “Community Rising: One Year Later” series, we travel to a village in Vernon County that found a symbol of hope.

On a clear and sunny day, cars travel down County Road P past the Gilbeck family farm. The emerald green fields along the creek did not look like this last August.

“It looked like oceanfront property,” said Gary Gilbeck, owner of the farm.

He described how the water rushed down the valley 4 to 5 feet deep. It crept closer and closer to his home.

“We’ve lived here for 40 years. We’ve never seen water like that,” said Dorothy Kjelland, one of Gilbeck’s neighbors.

Kjelland and her husband, Don Kjelland, had prepared for the storm but were expecting hail. They had moved their new car into the garage ahead of the rain, but it was flooded.

“The water was rushing. It sounded just like a waterfall all night. I said, ‘We might as well go back to bed. We can’t do anything,'” Dorothy Kjelland said.

From their homes, there was nothing but water. Gilbeck couldn’t see his cattle in the darkness.

“About 2 in the morning, they started coming out of the cornfield and out of the hayfields and all over,” Gilbeck said.

Once he was able to get outside, Gilbeck realized about 30 of his cattle were missing. But then, he found one.

“That’s my bull on the bridge!” Gilbeck said.

He was watching News 8 when he spotted King. The bull had traveled down the creek and suddenly appeared on the bridge leading into Coon Valley.

Amid it all, there he was.

Rising above August flooding, Coon Valley finds sign of hope

That image is part of the inspiration for the Coon Creek Canoe Races.

“We’ve been devastated a couple of times with floods in our community that affected businesses and families,” said Beth Hanson, an organizer with the Coon Valley Business Association.

Paddlers start their journey on the Gilbeck farm traveling downstream, just like King, toward the downtown area.

“We love our park. It’s got many, many years of baseball history,” Hanson said.

Through the races, they’re hoping to raise funds for flood control, cleaning up the park and fixing up the walking paths.

“We’d really like to create an atmosphere for people to use it but also be safe and keep the floodwaters away,” Hanson said.

The race ends not far from where it began, on a bridge. It connects us from a moment of despair to one of resiliency.

“Coon Valley people are that way. We’ll fight back until we’re back on our feet,” Gilbeck said.

To watch the other stories from our “Community Rising: One Year Later” series, click on the links below.

2018 flood named “200-500 year storm” by National Weather Service

De Soto, UW-La Crosse football reflect on efforts helping flood victims last August

Beyond the Breach: How communities are learning to rebuild after historic flooding

Some communities still trying to replace destroyed homes after 2018 flood

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