In the five years since the devastating floods, the parks and trails of southeast Minnesota have healed.
Unless they knew what they were looking for, most visitors wouldn’t even be able to see where the flood passed.
But when waters first roared through Whitewater State Park and the Root River Trail in 2007, they left behind an aftermath that required a $7 million repair bill.
Retired Whitewater naturalist Dave Palmquist was with family at the Boundary Waters at the time. He returned right after he heard.
Palmquist started at the park in 1974 and witnessed a 100-year flood his first year. Then another one in 1975 and two in 1978.
They were all bad, he said. But nothing compared to 2007.
“It was just an amazing storm,” he said.
Former park manager Garry Barvels left his house to check out the park the morning after. Debris was strewn. Water, rocks and dirt covered everything. Most of the bridges were impassable — or gone. Part of a footbridge washed down to the Lazy D Campground.
“It was a mess,” He said.
The Root River Trail also took a pounding. The trail was washed out or eroded in several places, covered in debris in several others.
Craig Blommer, a trail and waterways supervisor for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, said his most vivid memory is of a trail bridge north of Lanesboro, where the river’s south and north branches meet.
“When it flooded, that river just about cut the trail off from the bridge,” he said. “There was just this thin little ribbon of land you could walk across.”
It cost about $2.88 million to repair the Root River Trail and $4 million for Whitewater. It involved untold labor hours, many from volunteers.
Palmquist said about 1,000 people volunteered more than 7,000 hours to help repair the park.
“It was dirty, hard, yucky physical work,” he said. “And people just did it. The volunteer effort — I was just really moved by how people care about their public lands.”
The effort rebuilt the parks and trails stronger than before, in order to help protect against similar future damage.
Banks were built back up with riprap — large rocks — to protect against erosion. Bridges were built sturdier and higher to accommodate higher water levels and flow. Whitewater Park has a new flood warning system, complete with alarm, that measures river levels and rainfall.
The park has settled into a new rhythm. Five years later the vegetation and bluffs are back, and the damage has been worked or smoothed away.
“The park has pretty well healed itself,” Barvels said.